Politicians versus journalists, the public’s right to know versus the government’s desire for secrecy. Just in time for election season, L.A. Theatre Works — the nation’s foremost radio theater company — will present a rare live performance of “Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25 and 26, as part of the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series.
The story of the Pentagon Papers begins in 1966, when U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara commissioned a study of the history of United States’ involvement in Vietnam. Completed in 1969, the exhaustive report included frank and politically embarrassing revelations about administration attempts to manipulate military information as well as media coverage.
Though only 15 copies were circulated, one was leaked to The New York Times, and on June 13, 1971, the paper published a story under the headline “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.” Two days later, the Nixon administration sought and won a restraining order against the Times, yet another copy was soon given to The Washington Post, which was not covered by the injunction.
“Top Secret,” based on documents secured through the Freedom of Information Act as well as interviews and other sources, recounts the Post’s momentous deliberations about whether to publish the classified material. Led by editor Ben Bradlee, the paper’s staff sorts through documents and tries to decide if publishing the papers violates national security. The play also explores the extensive legal wrangling that followed — wrangling that ultimately led to a historic Supreme Court decision reaffirming First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
The four-member cast is led by award-winning actor John Heard as Ben Bradlee. Heard has appeared in more than 80 films, including starring roles in “Big,” “The Pelican Brief,” “Home Alone” and, most recently, “The Great Debaters.” He also has appeared on numerous television shows, including “Law and Order,” “Prison Break,” “CSI: Miami” and “Entourage.” His 1999 turn on “The Sopranos” earned an Emmy nomination for guest actor in a series. Other honors include a Theatre World Award and an Obie Award for his Off-Broadway performances in “Othello” and “Split.”
Also starring is Gregory Harrison as Washington Post lawyer Brian Kelly. Harrison has appeared in more than 40 movies of the week, including “Breaking the Silence” and “First Daughter,” which set a basic cable audience record. He has also had recurring roles on “Ed,” “Judging Amy” and “Strong Medicine.”
John Vickery plays Post editor Ben Bagdikian as well as Nixon official Robert Mardian. Vickery’s Broadway credits include the role of “Scar” in “The Lion King,” as well as roles in “The Sisters Rosensweig,” “The Real Thing” and “Macbeth.” Films include “Patriot Games,” “Murder by Numbers” and “Out of Bounds.” He has frequently appeared on television, in roles that include “NCIS,” “Without a Trace,” “Frasier” and “NYPD Blue.”
Rounding out the cast is Obie Award-winning actress Shannon Cochran as Post publisher Katherine Graham. Cochran has both acted and directed in numerous productions for the Steppenwolf Theatre and is on the staff at the School at Steppenwolf. She recently created roles in new productions at the Sundance Theatre Festival and the Goodman Theatre. Her film credits include “The Ring,” “Star Trek: Nemesis,” “The Babe” and Oliver Stone’s forthcoming “Pinkville.” Television credits include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Unit” and “The Office,” as well as a recurring role on the upcoming Fox series “The Oaks.”
Tickets — $30; $25 for seniors, faculty and staff; and $18 for students and children — are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. For more information, call 935-6543 or e-mail Edison@wustl.edu.