The Ben Hecht Show


Kudos to Chicago actor and playwright James Sherman for finally creating a dramatic rendition of aspects in the life of the American writer Ben Hecht. Sherman is currently performing in The Ben Hecht Show, a one man play that he wrote, at the Piven Theatre in Evanston. The aspect of Hecht’s life that Sherman mostly focuses on is the writer’s Jewishness, especially in relation to his efforts to aid Jews during and after the Holocaust and to his role as the chief American supporter and propagandist of the Irgun, an organization of Jews using acts of terror to force the British out of Palestine preceding the establishment of the state of Israel.
Perhaps no twentieth century literary figure was as multi-faceted as Hecht, who was a journalist, playwright, novelist, short story writer, and most famously a movie script writer. Yet in watching Sherman’s play we don’t really grasp the scope of Hecht’s prodigious talent. Lacking also are personal details of his life, especially the importance of his wife Rose in the advancement of his career.
Since Sherman decided to focus on Hecht and the Irgun, I wish he would have probed deeper into Hecht’s outrageous condoning of the violent acts against the British that resulted in Parliament banning his film work in Britain for five years. The play also did not mention Hecht’s vitriolic hatred of David Ben Gurion and his Labor Zionist colleagues for their part in the sinking of the Irgun ship Altalena and their willingness to negotiate with the Nazis over the fate of the Hungarian Jews.
Still, Sherman did a credible job in capturing Hecht’s passion for his cause. He is a splendid actor who met the challenge of a one man play with good heart and gusto. And Sherman is to be thanked for introducing the Chicago theater audience to an important aspect of Hecht’s incredible life.