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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Screenwriter's Daughter
Leicester Square Theatre      Autumn 2015

A young women, afire with idealism, wants to devote herself to artistic and social revolution. Her father, a former activist himself, fears she will squander her youth and talent on fruitless causes. He sees her as naive, she sees him as hypocritical. He wants to protect her, she wants to fly free. 

Playwright Larry Mollin has tapped into an almost universal experience of parents and children, and presents it with respect, sympathy and an awareness of the follies of both sides. On this generic level his 75-minute play is quite successful. 

But Mollin is not satisfied with an abstract story. He wants to add further significance and resonance by making the play very specifically about a real-world father and daughter. 

Ben Hecht was a successful and highly regarded Hollywood screenwriter (Stagecoach, His Girl Friday, etc), and an avid supporter of Jewish causes during World War II and of Israel afterwards. His youngest daughter Jenny was a minor actress who worked with the experimental company The Living Theatre in the late 1960s. 

Larry Mollin catches the pair on the eve of Jenny's departure to join the nomadic Living Theatre in Europe. Caught up in the spirit of the Sixties, she sees them and herself as harbingers of theatrical and social revolution. More experienced and perhaps more complacent, her father can only see the danger of disappointment and waste. 

But, despite offering some interesting bits of information about both (Ben wrote much of Gone With The Wind's script without screen credit), the story of Ben and Jenny adds very little to the already effective story of father and daughter. 

We are told in a narrative flash-forward that Ben's fears were justified, and that Jenny died of an overdose a few years later, and that's sad, but the news adds little to the play's effect. 

One of the play's unspoken ironies depends on our realizing that Jenny caught the Living Theatre at its apex and, far from bringing on a revolution in consciousness, it very quickly declined into impotent irrelevance. 

But almost nobody under the age of sixty today will catch that irony, just as there are few people today who have even heard of Ben, fewer of Jenny, and fewer still who care. 

Partly because Mollin wrote the character of Jenny as limited by the 1960s hippie-flavoured idealistic cliches of thought and vocabulary, actress Samantha Dakin is less successful in finding an individualised character in her than Paul Easom is with the more rounded and nuanced Ben. 

Forget that the Hechts were real people, experience this play as being about every father and daughter, and you'll get the best of what it has to offer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Screenwriter's Daughter - Leicester Squar  Theatre 2015

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