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L.A. Theatre Works to tour China with Pentagon Papers play

November 16, 2011 | 11:19 am


Freedom of the press is a value that Westerners often take for granted. But in China, where the state controls much if not all of the national media, the power of the press is something that can be perceived as threatening and dangerous.

This month, L.A. Theatre Works will embark on a two-week tour of China, performing "Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers" by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons. The play dramatizes the Washington Post's decision in 1971 to publish classified documents concerning U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Aarons was an editor at the Washington Post and drew from his experience at the newspaper to create the play.

A spokeswoman for L.A. Theatre Works said that this is the first time the company will travel to China and the first time it has toured abroad. The company is known for producing radio-style performances of classic and contemporary plays.

L.A. Theatre Works will perform "Top Secret" at the Shanghai International Contemporary Theater Festival from Nov. 22 to 27; at Guangzhou Sun Yatsen University on Nov. 29; at Peking University Centennial Hall on Dec. 2; and at Beijing Tianqiao Acrobatics Theater on Dec. 3 and 4.

Performances in China will be fully staged, not radio-style, said the company's spokeswoman. Actors will perform in English with supertitles, and a full text will be available for download at the play's website. The tour is being organized by Ping Pong Productions, a group that specializes in cultural exchange projects with China.

"Top Secret" was first produced by L.A. Theatre Works in 1991. The play had its off-Broadway debut last year at the New York Theatre Workshop.The cast of characters includes Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post; President Richard Nixon; and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

The Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press by Daniel Ellsberg, a government consultant.


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Photo: Daniel Ellsberg in a scene from the documentary "The Most Dangerous Man in America." Credit: PBS / Associated Press