Ordinary Americans by Joseph McDonough
Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019 various times - English
GableStage Producing Artistic Director Joseph Adler and Palm Beach Dramaworks Producing Artistic Director William Hayes are pleased to announce that their companies will be working together to co-produce the world premiere of Ordinary Americans, a play by Joseph McDonough based on actual events in the lives of Gertrude Berg and Philip Loeb, stars of television’s groundbreaking sitcom, The Goldbergs, which premiered on CBS in 1949.
- As previously announced, Ordinary Americans will be staged at PBD from December 6 - 29, 2019.
- It will then move on to GableStage from January 18 - February 16, 2020.
Hayes will direct, and South Florida favorite Elizabeth Dimon will star as Berg. The rest of the cast and artistic team will be announced at a later date.
“We’re thrilled to be working together and excited about bringing this play to both our audiences,” said Hayes and Adler in a joint statement. “We have enormous respect for each other’s work; we share the same views when it comes to the kind of theatre we want to be associated with. The DNA between the two theatres is very similar. We both try to pick plays that you won’t forget about when the lights come up, plays that people will still be talking about the next day. That’s our goal. If we can rattle the cage and maybe change someone’s viewpoint, that’s exciting. We also think that partnering is the right message to send to the community. We believe that theatres are collaborative rather than competitive, and this is a way to lead by example. It’s important to come together and show there’s a new way to think as theatre companies. And with Ordinary Americans, we have a meaningful story to tell the world that is particularly powerful at this moment in history.” It is believed to be the first co-production between two South Florida theatres.
The play is set in the early 1950s and centers on the tribulations faced by Berg and Loeb as they struggle to save their show, their careers, and their friendship in the face of McCarthyism, anti-Semitism, and the political climate of the country. Berg (1899 – 1966) was a seminal figure in American popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century and one of the most significant artists in television history, yet she is largely forgotten today. She was known to millions around the country as Molly Goldberg, a character she created for her 1929 radio show, The Rise of the Goldbergs, which aired first on NBC and later on CBS until 1945 (with a break between 1934 and 1938). In addition to starring as the matriarch of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, Berg wrote almost every script for the radio show and then for the TV series, which ran through 1957 on different networks. She was also the show’s producer, and the first recipient of an Emmy Award for Lead Comedy Actress.
“She owned her own show,” said McDonough. “She was like Oprah before Oprah. In those days, for a woman, especially a Jewish woman, to do all that she did was incredible. And she never shied away from the fact that her characters were Jewish, which was also important. Yet the family’s appeal was that they were just ordinary Americans.”
“I have vivid memories of watching The Goldbergs on television,” said Adler. “I loved Gertrude Berg, and I realized early on that she was more than just the actress. She created the show, she was a writer, she was a brilliant woman. To my knowledge, she created the first television series that depicted Jewish family life in America. The critical thing about that show is it was loved by Jews and non-Jews because it was really about family. And it’s remarkable that it was being aired way back then, because at the time the country was riddled by anti-Semitism.”
Hayes admits that he knew very little about Berg until Dimon told him of her long-time desire to play the television pioneer. “Beth knew she was suited to playing the role and she’d been trying to get someone interested in writing a play about Gertrude Berg for years,” Hayes said. “I watched a documentary about Berg and read her biography, and as I learned more and more about her I couldn’t believe nobody had written a play about her. I couldn’t get her story out of my head; it became an obsession. So I commissioned the play out of The Dramaworkshop, our lab for developing new work. I asked Joe to write it because he became as fascinated by the subject as I was.”
Ordinary Americans was developed in The Dramaworkshop, and last January it received a reading at PBD as part of the first New Year/New Plays Festival. “I think the strength of the play – and several people who attended the reading said this – is that it’s the first time that McCarthyism is personalized, where we actually see it destroy a good person,” said Hayes, referring to Loeb. “It makes it a more powerful message because you get to know and like someone, and you see the destructive power of fear and paranoia. And as you watch this fear and paranoia and anti-Semitism, the parallels to today are unmistakable.”
Hayes approached Adler about co-producing the play, and Adler was immediately receptive. “I jumped at the chance,” he said. “It’s such an important story. On one level it’s pure Americana, which is to say it’s a play about a minority in this country, and an artist who was able to depict family life within that minority in such a way that it had a universality. At the same time, these people are persecuted for their religion and their politics. The blacklist is a blight on our history, and I don’t think most people today are aware of how many people’s careers were destroyed, or the number of people who killed themselves. It’s a story that needs to be told.”
- GableStage is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, Florida Cultural Alliance, Dade Cultural Alliance, Americans for the Arts, and The Drama League, as well as Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce, Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, and the Miami-Dade Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
- Palm Beach Dramaworks is a non-profit, professional theatre and is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the South Florida Theatre League, Florida Professional Theatres Association, and the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.
Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St,
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
1200 Anastasia Avenue,
Coral Gables, FL 33134