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Talented Tania: Hollywood Blacklist Hero’s Granddaughter Rolls Back Onstage

Ed Rampell: In addition to her high roller role in Derby theatergoers have also been fortunate to see Tania play Iago’s wife Emilia in a modern dress version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello.
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FOR THE LOVE OF (OR, THE ROLLER DERBY PLAY)Theater Revival

Led by their fearless leader Lizzie Lightning (Tania Verafield), the Brooklyn Scallywags are rolling back into Los Angeles. But this time the all-female teammates are skating into a much larger arena, presenting Gina Femia’s rough and tumble For the Love Of (Or, The Roller Derby Play) at Culver City’s 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre. Derby is one of three 2018 L.A. plays selected for revival by the Kirk Douglas’ third annual “Block Party” and the first one being mounted on the boards during this celebration of theater, which presents encore productions from L.A.’s outstanding intimate theaters.

Last May, Derby was mounted at the diminutive Theatre of Note, which is about one sixth the Douglas’ size. But as Dr. David Rubin once shrewdly (if not lewdly) observed, “size is not important,” and it’s noteworthy that this cutting edge freewheeling feminist-themed drama is being reprised. And it will be interesting to see how this adaptation on presumably a grander scale by Rhonda Kohl, who also creatively choreographed and directed the original at the Note, compares.

In addition to her high roller role in Derby theatergoers have also been fortunate to see Tania play Iago’s wife Emilia in a modern dress version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello

As noted, the cast is being led by the young, biracial, Catholic-Jewish Tania Verafield, a rising stage star in L.A. (which after N.Y. has America's largest theater scene), who is here reprising her role as the Scallywags’ star player. This gifted Chicana/Caucasian thespian is so red hot that she’s actually co-starring in two plays at the same time. In addition to her high roller role in Derby theatergoers have also been fortunate to see Tania play Iago’s wife Emilia in a modern dress version of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello (see my review: https://hollywoodprogressive.com/othello/) at one of L.A.’s top theater companies, A Noise Within, which just won the coveted Ovation Award for Best Season (L.A.’s equivalent to the Tony Awards).

Tania also co-emceed 2017’s four-hour-long 70th anniversary Hollywood Blacklist Commemoration at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills, which was repeatedly aired on C-SPAN, plus solo emceed the Dr. King Commemoration at 2018’s Left Coast Forum. I co-presented and wrote these shows so know firsthand how hardworking and gifted Tania is.

It isn’t surprising that Tania’s not only a great actress but also has a deep social conscience: Verafield’s grandfather was Bobby Lees, a former Communist Party member who put “Red propaganda” into the dialogue of “subversive” flicks like 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The successful screenwriter was earning $1,500 per week when he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951. All Bobby had to do to continue living his Hollywood lifestyle was recant his radical politics and snitch on others. But Bobby refused to be a rat fink and was blacklisted instead.

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The beloved Bobby lived to be 91 - but was subjected to the most heinous villainy of anyone I ever knew. I’m not a Method actor but I suspect Tania channels her resulting angst into her acting, with roles like Desdemona’s gal pal, perhaps finding some sort of catharsis for the misery this horrific crime inflicted on not only the popular Bobby, but on all who had the honor, privilege and pleasure to know this motherlode of morality.

The Mexican-American-white actress expresses her humanitarianism and solidarity in other ways, too. In 2018 Tania helped build a school in the developing African nation of Malawi with the non-profit organization buildOn. This young biracial beauty is an exemplar of her generation, a role model who shows how one can overcome grief and tragedy through creative pursuits like acting - and acts of compassion.

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Brianna Price joins the cast as newcomer skater Joy Ride, who becomes the subject of Lizzie Lightning’s desire in this LGBTQ-themed, fast moving, two act play with one intermission. Other original cast members who, like Verafield, are reprising their roles in what I recall is an all-woman cast include Crystal Diaz and Elinor Gunn as Michelle - Joy’s love interest who competes with Lizzie for Joy’s attention.

Do the actresses portraying the Brooklyn Scallywags and their competitors actually wheel around onstage? Come watch Tania Verafield and her teammates reap the wild whirlwind onstage at the Kirk Douglas in the thrilling Derby and find out how they do it! Helmets and kneepads optional for audience members. Go Scallywags!

For the Love Of (Or, The Roller Derby Play) is playing March 7-17 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232. The other Block Party plays running through April 28 are Skylight Theatre’s Rotterdam (March 28-April 7) and Antaeus Theatre Company’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s Native Son (April 18-28). For information: https://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/kirk-douglas-theatre/2018-19/block-party/#FTLO.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell is the co-author/author of four film history books, including “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book” (http://hawaiimtvbook.weebly.com/).