“Looking back, I still can’t believe how unprofessional the news media was. So much spin, so few hard facts.”―
Excerpt of Max Brooks’ quote from (World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War)
Above The Fold makes its debut at the Pasadena Playhouse. The play, a world premier written by Bernard Weinraub and directed by Steven Robman, introduces Jane, (Taraji P. Henson), an African American newspaper reporter from New York who is still trying to make a name for herself at an established news agency. Hungry for an assignment that will land her story “above the fold” (a media term that shows a story at the top half of the front page) Jane aims to get the attention of the “Bow Tie” a hard-to-please boss whose presence is felt even though he is never seen; and harnesses the power to send her to Afghanistan for a highly desired assignment.
One day as Jane is sitting at her desk she is ordered by her editor, “Marvin” (Arye Gross), to drop everything and go down south to cover some obscure political story. Once there, she stumbles on a bigger news item that makes her question, in short order, what price she is willing pay to get the attention she thought she wanted. After arriving in North Carolina she meets district attorney “Lorne” (Mark Hildreth) and the original news item she arrived for is replaced by a new, more sensational one, compliments of the overzealous D.A. with an agenda of his own. Surprising the reporter, Lorne offers flattery (“I Googled you!”) and bourbon – which Jane accepts – and tells the reporter he has decided to drop his campaign for congress. Yet instead of revealing his plans for instant stardom via his planned prosecution of a racially-charged rape case that involves an African American mother slash stripper and three white fraternity boys; he takes a more humble stance, positioning himself as the politician who will not rest until the “guilty” is brought to justice.
Weinraub writes on a subject he knows a lot about. He is a former correspondent for the New York Times as well as its Hollywood counterpart.
But his story is not an original one. It’s a take on the infamous news story of the same ilk that took place in 2006: The Duke Lacrosse Rape Case – where three athletes on the team were falsely accused of raping an African American woman who worked as a stripper.
The talented Taraji P. Henson (Person of Interest, Think Like A Man Too, Hustle & Flow) is compelling to watch in this lead role and really helps the 2 1/2 hour play move quickly.
Obviously, the play is not meant to be a bonafide example of journalistic decorum so some of Henson’s behavior (accepting that drink from the D.A. for one) would not be acceptable in the real world. And though Jane shows restraint under moments of obvious pressure for the most part, she does lose her cool at one point when the frat boys piss her off. Another no-no. And when she gives the stripper “Monique,” the accuser that she is interviewing in the rape case, the shoes off her feet… and a hug..that goes against the unbiased principal of all journalistic practices!
Still, Henson showed a nice balance in acting for the stage. As an actor of primarily film, her acting was neither overdone nor underplayed, it struck a nice even balance that demonstrated – in this case at least, that “less is more.”
No doubt a choice made under the guidance of director Steven Robman.
Kristy Johnson plays the “Monique” character brilliantly. This role could have easily been one-dimensional in the hands of a less-skilled actor. This is Johnson’s third appearance in less than two years at the Pasadena Playhouse. A former attorney, she also appeared in the plays Intimate Apparel and Jitney.
Arye Gross’ “Marvin” is appropriately overly intense as the newspaper editor who passes down the stress of his own accountability to Jane. The two actors work well together in this story; which takes place during the transition of journalism from print to digital.
Great levels displayed in the sometimes emotionally-charged performances of the frat boys Kristopher Higgins as “Victor,” Joe Massingill as “Bobby” and especially Seamus Mulcahy as “Eric.”