Elizabeth Dimon as Gertrude Berg in the forthcoming world premier of "Ordinary Americans" at Palm Beach Dramaworks. (Photo by Samantha Mighdoll)

When television was in its infancy, few actors were as beloved as Gertrude Berg and few shows were as popular as The Goldbergs, the gentle comedy that she created, starred in, wrote, and produced. The program began on radio in 1929, and 20 years later became one of TV’s earliest sitcoms. For her portrayal of Molly Goldberg, the matriarch of a Jewish family living in the Bronx, Berg was the first recipient of an Emmy Award for Best Actress.

The Goldbergs was a huge moneymaker for CBS. And then, in June, 1950, a pamphlet was issued called Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, published by a right-wing newsletter funded by a businessman with ties to the John Birch Society. It listed 151 artists and broadcasters as “Red Fascists and their sympathizers.” All it took to get on the list was to be an activist with political views antithetical to the extremist ideology of those responsible for the pamphlet; proponents of civil rights and academic freedom were among the favorite targets. Many of them, not coincidentally, were Jewish. Among those ensnared by this very real witch hunt was Philip Loeb, who played Jake Goldberg, Molly’s husband. When CBS demanded that Berg fire Loeb, she refused. The show was taken off the air.

The aftermath of that decision, and the consequences of McCarthyism and anti-Semitism on Berg, Loeb, and the Goldberg “family,” are at the center of Joseph McDonough’s Ordinary Americans, a co-production with GableStage that was commissioned by Palm Beach Dramaworks. The play receives its world premiere at PBD on December 6, and continues at the Don & Ann Brown Theatre through December 29, with specially priced previews on December 4 and 5.

Opening night is already sold out!

Following its run at PBD, Ordinary Americans moves south to GableStage, where it can be seen from January 18 – February 16, 2020. PBD Producing Artistic Director William Hayes directs.

“On one level, Ordinary Americans pays tribute to an extraordinarily talented, innovative, and courageous artist and businesswoman,” said Hayes. “Gertrude Berg was responsible for a television show which fostered the idea that, regardless of who we are, where we come from, or how we worship, people are basically the same and fundamentally good. But then she and her wonderful, big-hearted ensemble are threatened by the Red Scare, and life is never quite the same. Ordinary Americans serves as a warning and reminder of the damning effects of fear and paranoia on good people and on society. I believe this is the timeliest production in PBD’s history.”

Like the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Red Channels branded people without any knowledge or proof of subversive activities. The pamphlet was quietly distributed to studio and advertising executives who were all too willing to sacrifice the accused rather than stand up to the accusers and run the risk of major financial losses. Their complicity and cowardice expanded the blacklist begun by HUAC in 1947. The only way to clear one’s name was to go before HUAC and tell the committee what it wanted to hear: truth was unacceptable if facts got in the way of its fiction. Livelihoods and lives were destroyed.

Ordinary Americans features Elizabeth Dimon as Gertrude Berg, David Kwiat as Philip Loeb (PBD debut) and, in multiple roles, Rob Donohoe, Margery Lowe, and Tom Wahl. Ilana Becker is the associate director (PBD debut). Set design is by Michael Amico, costume design is by Brian O’Keefe, lighting design is by Christina Watanabe (PBD debut), and sound design is by David Thomas.

Planning to attend? Check palmbeachdramaworks.org/tickets for information on tickets and forthcoming showtimes.

“Ordinary Americans” to Debut at Palm Beach Dramaworks