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Theater Review: ‘Above The Fold’ At The Pasadena Playhouse

Savannah L. Barker |
February 6, 2014 | 10:57 a.m. PST

Arts Editor-At-Large

Taraji P. Henson in "Above The Fold." Photo by Jix Cox.
Taraji P. Henson in "Above The Fold." Photo by Jix Cox.
“Nobody has to lie or even fudge the facts to wrinkle the truth,” states Director Steven Robman in his note to the audience, “the simple choice of an adjective or the placement of a quote can inadvertently do the wrinkling.” And so goes the question of morality and ethical journalism in Bernard Weinraub’s “Above The Fold,” an exploration of the dying newspaper industry, race, and truth. Loosely based on the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, where three student athletes were falsely accused of raping an African American stripper, “Above The Fold” scrutinizes the media hype given to this famous story and the portrayal of those involved.

The play follows the bright, strong, and sometimes sassy Jane (Taraji P. Henson), a black journalist for the New York Times, as she investigates accusations of rape made against three “white, privileged fraternity brothers” as they are described to her by District Attorney Lorne (Mark Hildreth). A crime where white male students dominate and abuse a black female “mother of two,” is one too juicy for Jane to ignore; one including all the makings of a perfect story— sex, race, and violence. While at first seeming to be an open-and-shut case, Jane’s further investigation leads her to realize things are much more complicated than they appear.

Jane’s search for the truth leads her to interview the supposed victim, Monique (Kristy Johnson), who she soon learns is completely unreliable and even somewhat pathological, interrupting her recollections of the brutal rape with questions about how nice Jane’s shoes are. Jane’s doubts are furthered when she is finally able to meet with the three fraternity boys themselves (Kristopher Higgins, Joe Massingill, and Seamus Mulcahy) and discovers the many holes in Monique’s account.

Having been a New York Times reporter for a large majority of his life, it is easy to see how playwright Bernard Weinraub’s own experiences influenced the writing of this piece. Aside from the main storyline of uncovering the truth, Weinraub also examines the disappearing realm of print journalism as it becomes consumed by the digital age. This theme, while more understated, is equally as important to understanding the full context in which this play occurs. The set (designed by Jeffery P. Eisenmann) includes a giant iPhone, flat-screen TV, and news marquee in the foreground, with printed words projected in the background, demonstrating the transformation of news into the sound-bite era.

Photo by Jim Cox.
Photo by Jim Cox.
Weinraub does an excellent job of making every character both likable and flawed— no good-guy bad-guy nonsense, these are just real people with their own dilemmas and ambitions. Jane, while not entirely innocent, is clearly a good-intentioned individual who is having trouble coming to terms with the fact that she has wrongfully accused three men of rape and convinced the entire world the same. Even Monique is oddly likable, as a troubled woman and victim in a very different sense, she does not seem malevolent in her muddle of the facts.

Both actresses Taraji P. Henson and Kristy Johnson were standouts in this show, playing very real and honest characters. Henson demonstrated an impressive strength and presence onstage while Johnson successfully played a basket-case stripper. Neither character was shallow, and the ability to add depth to an already rich story only magnified this important narrative.

The way in which this narrative is told is also very unique, having an almost screenplay-like aura to it. The scenes are quick and the pacing is fast, as if switching from shot to shot to keep the audience awake. Set changes are punctuated with real-life audio and video from reporters on the 2006 Duke lacrosse case. Actors’ addresses to the press are recorded live and projected on the TV screens. There is truly never a dull moment in this play, which allows for many topics to be explored without weighing on the audience’s patience.

All preconceptions aside, this play truly challenges one to question the way in which we receive our news as objective fact. No matter how well-intentioned a reporter may be, biases and agendas inevitably creep and crawl into each and every word selected for any given article. It seems this play promotes doubt over certainty, as certainty is much harder to correct, and can lead to horrifying consequences. “Above The Fold,” is definitely a must-see show that leaves its viewers thinking more critically about the information we so readily consume each day.   

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“Above The Fold” is playing at The Pasadena Playhouse (39 South El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA 91101) through February 23. Tickets are $38-$72. More information can be found at

Reach Arts Editor-At-Large Savannah here.



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