CQ/CX by Gabe McKinley at Atlantic Theater Company

Remember the Jason Blair scandal at the New York Times?  About ten years ago, a young Times reporter was found to have been phoning in stories from his Brooklyn apartment which he devised by watching and reading the news and cribbing from articles in other newspapers.  The scandal reverberated through the newspaper, leading to heads rolling at the top editorial levels and major restructuring of the editorial process.  Now it's a play, by Gabe McKinley.

McKinley sets his action at the New York Times at around the time the actual events took place, but changes the names of the characters.  (Except for the publisher, portrayed by David Pittu, who is referred to as Junior, a totally unsubtle reference to actual Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.)  The young reporter, now named Jay Bennett, is played by NY newcomer Kobi Libii, and the editors to whom he reports at various times are played by Arliss Howard, Peter Jay Fernandez and Tim Hopper.  His reporter friends on the paper are played by Steve Rosen and Sheila Tapia.  An elderly editor with some of the best lines is played by Larry Bryggman.  I would say that Bryggman's performance is the most accomplished of the lot, real character actor territory that he totally nails.

The play itself has some problems, most notably a first act that seems to lurch a bit from scene to scene, but I found that the piece works pretty well.  It is difficult to figure out the motivation of Jason Blair (Jay Bennett) for doing what he is doing, especially since he is presented from the outset as being so incredibly eager to make a success at the Times.  Why would anybody undertake something so risky?  The Times is, despite the decline of the print media, still seen as a "paper of record" to which people pay close attention, which means that anybody making up stories will eventually get caught.  (The scandal in the Blair case was that he got away with it far longer than one would have expected, which led to a tightening up of the editorial process and the introduction of a Public Editor to field comments and complaints from the public.) 

I think this is a limited run at The Peter Norton Space on 42nd Street near 11th Avenue.  The small theater helps to magnify the drama, and the production, which relies heavily on rear wall projections rather than a set, is imaginatively done.  David Leveaux directs and the cast is obviously working very hard to activate what is – by its nature – a very talky drama.  I think anybody fascinated by the newspaper business, as I am, will find much to enjoy, and anybody who doesn't know the back-story will find many surprises along the way.  I hope the young star, Kobi Libii, has many more opportunities to grow as an actor. The signs are there…

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