Jeffrey Sweet's three-person drama, a modern look at the lasting effects of the McCarthy blacklist, arrives on the West Coast with an attractive and engaging production. Jack Klugman stars as Benny Silverman, a retired actor whose daughter, Norma (Liz Larsen), is visiting his palatial seaside Malibu digs for the first time in two years. She has been cast in a play and has changed her name to escape the shadows of her father's reputation.
Norma finds his loving cantankerousness exhausting, telling him, "Someone should make you an amusement-park ride," though Benny himself is not likely to be amused. The director of the production Norma is in is Leo Gershen (Dan Lauria, also directing), who 40 years earlier gave the House Un-American Activities Committee the names of other creative artists, including Benny's. The ultimate tête-à-tête between the two men is filled with fiery showmanship. Lauria has a wonderful shuffle he's devised for the character and an intriguing way of building up to his explosive tirades. Klugman's expert comedic timing and naturalness is completely winning. One wishes the miking could be turned up a bit, to amplify his challenged vocal cords. Larsen has an interesting look and is amusing, although she tends to rely too much on repetitive hand gestures.
Sweet makes us wait quite a while before Gershen's entrance but gives the character a tremendous explanation of why he refuses to apologize for naming names. And there is a surprising and refreshing twist to the final scene, in which father and daughter seem headed for a manufactured rapprochement. Lauria directs with great control and assuredness. Keith Mitchell's orange stucco-and-flagstone villa set is nicely outlandish, in the way so many Southern California luxury properties are. In the end, playwright Sweet is far too experienced to opt for easy answers, reminding us that in one of America's darkest hours, the line between villain and victim could be entertainingly murky.
Presented by and at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. Jun. 2-24. (818) 955-8101. www.falcontheatre.com.