Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers

This docudrama follows The Washington Post's exposure of Tricky Dick.

  • MEDIA WATCH Meisle, Strauss and Van Norden, from left, chase deadlines.

MEDIA WATCH Meisle, Strauss and Van Norden, from left, chase deadlines.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

When Tricia Nixon is called “vanilla” at the beginning of Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, one wonders whether the authors of this documentary play about the fight to publish a leaked report on U.S. involvement in Vietnam are foreshadowing. But Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons have turned the events leading up to the Supreme Court’s landmark freedom-of-the-press ruling into compelling drama.

Using trial transcripts and interviews, Cowan and Aarons concentrate on Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (an engaging Kathryn Meisle) as she debates risking the wrath of the White House to run a story that exposes government lies. There’s flair and precision in John Rubinstein’s broadcast-style staging, in which performers stand in front of microphones, scripts in hand, while two actors (Diane Adair and Russell Soder) alternate supplying sound effects (scissors opening and closing for a manual typewriter, for example).

A top-notch cast of 11, each actor playing multiple characters, sees to it that the material reaches the delicious dramatic heights of old-time radio. In brief turns as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, Larry Pine and Peter Van Norden cackle like Macbeth’s witches as they plot against the press, and Larry Bryggman and John Getz go from journalists to Nixon officials by donning glasses and severe frowns. Peter Strauss imbues Post executive editor Ben Bradlee’s let’s-get-’em speech with Knute Rockne spirit, and that appears to be the tone this production aims for. Don’t expect bombshell revelations, just an uplifting story for weary newspapers and those who still prize them.

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New York Theatre Workshop. By Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons. Dir. John Rubinstein. With ensemble cast. 1hr 50mins. One intermission.