It was one of the most harrowing moments in journalism and a turning point in the Vietnam War. The leaking and subsequent publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971 detailed the nation’s misadventure in South East Asia, and the events are recreated in Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers.
The docudrama, which opened March 9 at New York Theatre Workshop in the East Village, focuses on events at The Washington Post, but The New York Times also closely followed the story.
John Rubinstein directs play by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons. Larry Pine, Peter Strauss, Kathryn Meisle and Larry Bryggman are featured actors.
“It’s 1971 and the nation is at war,” the production notes state. “The intractable conflict escalates in Vietnam while here at home the battle for public opinion rages. A federal court blocks The New York Times from publishing the top-secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham has a single day to decide whether to print these documents, which quickly became known as the Pentagon Papers. When the Nixon administration closes in and charges treason, the fight for a free press explodes.”
One nice thing about this play is that many of the participants in that fateful clash are still alive and Cowan and Aarons interviewed the them and reviewed government documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act .
Cowan is professor of journalism and law and dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.
He founded the Center for Law and Social Policy, a public interest agency which has represented civil rights groups, women’s organizations, labor unions, and environmentalists in landmark FCC proceedings.
Aarons was an editor and a national correspondent for The Washington Post, serving as the New York bureau chief and later opening the paper’s Los Angeles bureau. He is the founder of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) in New York City.
The writers pluck 11 characters from history to present the play.
The cast includes Kathryn Meisle (Katharine Graham), Matt McGrath (George Wilson/Eugene Patterson), Larry Pine (Richard Nixon/Dennis Doolin), Russell Soder (Soldier/Darryl Cox/Clerk & Bailiff/Ron Ziegler), Peter Strauss (Ben Bradlee) and Peter Van Norden (Fritz Beebe/Henry Kissinger)
Also: Diane Adair (as Meg Greenfield), Larry Bryggman (John Mitchell/Chal Roberts/Lamont Vanderhall), John Getz (Ben Bagdikian/Robert Mardian), Jack Gilpin (Brian Kelly), James Gleason (Murry Marder/Judge Martin Peel).