Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
James Graham's play, set in 1969 London, begins with the first meeting between Larry Lamb (Cody Nickell), a veteran journalist who feels undervalued at the successful Daily Mirror, and Rupert Murdoch (Andrew Rein), an ambitious Australian publisher who has purchased the failing Sun newspaper from the Mirror and wants to make it the United Kingdom's highest-circulation daily within a year. Their efforts not only launch Murdoch's career as an international press baron, they also change the entire conception of what journalism should be.
Director Jason Loewith, Olney's artistic director, keeps the pacing fast as a large cast, most playing multiple roles, appear and disappear on Tony Cisek's high-tech set. The projections designed by Mike Tutaj flash across a high, curved wall of screens: type, computerized images, scene-setting photos, and occasionally gaps where small groups of actors play their scenes live. The mainstage floor incorporates several concentric turntables, which keep propelling the action even when the actors are not themselves moving.
By just laying out the facts, the playwright shows how following the bottom line gradually pushes the purpose of journalism away from advocacy, which may have a partisan agenda but still sticks to the truth of a story, toward profit as the only goal. If audiences would prefer horoscopes, gruesome descriptions of crimes, and titillation to more substantive issues, they're the customers and satisfying their desires is the way to build a media empire. (In 1969, this was a radical idea.)
Loewith shows notable control as he juggles the many staging elements, subtly reinforcing the theme by, for example, working with sound designer Matthew M. Nielson to underscore Lamb's wooing of journalists with various renditions of the song "My Way."
While Rein is smooth and driven as the man with the original plan, Nickell gives a fierce, explosive performance as a man who gets on board and ultimately sees the ruin as well as the rewards. Craig Wallace is stentorian as a pillar of the journalistic establishment, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh gives an impassioned performance as one of Lamb's early hires, and Michael Glenn sparkles in a small role as a classically trained actor tripping over his rapid-fire lines for a television commercial promoting the Sun.
Ink runs through September 24, 2023, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
By James Graham