The Ben Hecht Show

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Written and performed by James Shermanhecht_ad_v2

Based on the books A Guide For the Bedevilled and

A Child Of the Century by Ben Hecht

Directed by Dennis Zacek

Produced by Grippo Stage Company

At Piven Theatre, Evanston

Riveting, thoughtful glimpse into the life and values of a major 20th Century writer

I’m a fan of one person shows. The skill it takes to present a solo show is daunting, yet playwright turned actor James Sherman has produced a worthy portrait of a near-forgotten literary figure from the 20th Century. Sherman has researched and complied the words of the prolific journalist, playwright, novelist, essayist, and screenwriter  – Ben Hecht (1894 -1964). Sherman is favorite Chicago playwright know as “the Neil Simon of Lincoln Avenue” for his  comic kitchen-sink  plays (See http://www.jamessherman.com/plays.html )

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Hecht was a major literary artist in the first half of the 20th Century. To appreciate this show more, be sure to read Hecht’s bio at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Hecht. You’ll discover he was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist, and novelist. A journalist in his youth, he went on to write thirty-five books and some of the most entertaining screenplays and plays in America. He received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some seventy films. He became an active Zionist shortly before the Holocaust began in Germany, and wrote articles and plays about the plight of European Jews, such as, We Will Never Die in 1943 and A Flag is Born in 1946.

We probably remember the terrific TimeLine Theatre’s production of Hecht’s The Front Page a few years back.

What James Sherman deftly did on stage was to humanize Hecht as an honest person telling his life story from his Jewish origins that moved him from a person who  claimed that he had never experienced anti-Semitism in his life and claimed to have had little to do with Judaism, but, “was drawn back to the Lower East Side roots late in life and lived for a while on Henry Street, where he could absorb the energy and social consciousness of the ghetto,” wrote author Sanford Sternlicht.

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Ben Hecht

What Sherman accomplished so effectively was to take us on Hecht’s journey from a journalist to a playwright to a screenwriter (whose success made him as much as $100,000 in a month!) to a leader advocate for saving Jews in Europe during World War II and, eventually a homeland for the Jews.  The story is presented matter-of-factually by Sherman with nice humor and tads of irony.  I was amazed by the skill Sherman demonstrated on stage after many years of absence. I also learned much about  how the Jews of Hollywood made sure that none of Jewish life entered into mainstream films. We see how, despite the large paychecks, Hecht thought most of his film scripts contained little art.

The Ben Hecht Show is filled with fine examples of Hecht’s brilliant writing that was expertly delivered by James Sherman. This is an important solo show that contains  the wit, wisdom, and commitment of a major public figure to a worthy cause. Hecht’s story is in good hands with Sherman.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Date Reviewed: June 14,2016

For more info checkout The Ben Hecht Show page at theatreinchicago.com

At Piven Theatre, Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston, IL, call 800-838-3006, www.grippostagecompany.com, tickets $35, seniors $30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 90 minuted without an intermission, through July 17, 2016