- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In his long life and successful career, Elia Kazan shed many skins, but the one that clung to him most tenaciously was that of traitor.

The director collected endless accolades and awards — first on Broadway as a fierce interpreter of the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, then in Hollywood as director of such classics as “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “On the Waterfront.” Yet Mr. Kazan’s shining achievements have been overshadowed by the consequences of his decision to “name names” (already known to investigators) during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in the 1950s.

He finally received an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999, but many attendees sat on their hands rather than applaud. That reaffirmed the ostracization — almost reverse blacklisting — Mr. Kazan endured for more than 40 years after bowing to pressure from studio management to cooperate with investigators looking into surreptitious communist influence in Hollywood.

Fear of the blacklist, fear of not working — these are among the reasons cited for Mr. Kazan’s actions in “The Director: The Third Act of Elia Kazan,” an exploration of an immigrant’s struggle to belong and make it in America at all costs by local writer and director Leslie A. Kobylinski.

A confessional memoir, “The Director” is an impressionistic look into the mind of the brilliant director, especially his ability to compartmentalize. On one hand, he beatifies his first wife, Molly Thatcher (she was the Stella to his Stanley), with whom he helped forge the Group Theatre and the much misunderstood, psychological Method school of acting. On the other hand, he recounts with a subtle lip-smack of lust all the affairs and casual sex he had once he became a success.

He speaks affectionately of Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando and Arthur Miller but also takes them to task for what he perceives as their weaknesses and mistakes. He talks honestly of joining the Communist Party in the 1930s, but when it comes time to say exactly why he provided names to HUAC, he offers up a defensive excuse that work was all that mattered and without work, that sense of belonging, he was nothing.

The action of “The Director” is confined to a single, spare waiting room where Mr. Kazan sits uneasily in a chair. He could be outside a House committee room, or he could be in an antechamber in the afterlife. The waiting is interminable for Mr. Kazan, as is the silence. “Silence means failure; failure is quiet,” he notes.

Although the one-man show boasts a laser-sharp performance by Rick Foucheux, “The Director” largely mines the accepted view that Mr. Kazan did what he did to save his hide. You would expect a new work to shed new light on the inner workings of a complicated man. Lacking this raison d’etre, the unstructured play offers little more than formless biography.

Mr. Foucheux’s Kazan is a restless, contradictory soul who was told long ago by his Greek mother that all blood is washed clean on arrival in America. The play portrays the director as searching a lifetime for that cleansing, believing work was his path to redemption.

But was it really that simple?

Reading Mr. Kazan’s excellent autobiography, you get the sense that he offers up no definitive rationales for his decisions but instead accepts that his actions have led to an ever-deepening and widening series of questions. That ambiguity within Mr. Kazan’s psyche would have been worth exploring, but because “The Director” goes for mea culpas rather than insights, you walk away from the play feeling that this third act is just a reiteration of the previous two.

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WHAT: “The Director: The Third Act of Elia Kazan” by Leslie A. Kobylinski

WHAT: Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: $25 to $35

PHONE: 240/644-1387

WEB SITE: www.roundhousetheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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