Audience Reactions to TOP SECRET in China

In an essay contest in China, more than 30 people wrote about their reactions to seeing the play Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers on its tour through China.  Read highlights from the essays below:

“It really is a brilliant story! Although I’m not sure about how much truth or factual information we can expect from a stage play, this version of the story really is rather compelling and captivating…I was particularly struck by a few scenes in Act 2 as they provoked thoughts that never occurred to me before. It was the first time I watched a stage play that featured American actors and I like their style of performance very much. Their acting was so natural and convincing that I almost forgot I was looking at a performance! Amazing!”

“In my opinion, the power and duty of the press is to enable the mass to know more about the truth. The significance of the existence of the press is to investigate and analyse news events in depth in order to uncover the truth. Some information, once revealed, will inevitably cause upheaval and unrest in society or even damage the image of the government in the eyes of the public. However, concealing the truth is not only unhealthy to the development of journalism itself but is also unfavorable for the development of a country’s democratic development.”

“Right before the end of the play, it seems the audience had been encouraged to hold themselves against the U.S. government in support of The Washington Post. But in the very last scene, Brian Kelly’s closing remarks got me think again – indeed, shouldn’t the press take into account national security while seeking the freedom of speech?… Back to the present, we see that the power of the media is growing, and the influence of news reports has become stronger than ever. In this case, the media should be more cautious about the adverse effect each piece of information they publish could cause to the innocent. That is especially true in today’s world where  commercial competition dominates the society. The media should strengthen their sense of social responsibility and the ability to reflect.”

“The spirit of questioning penetrates almost all the great contemporary plays…Drama is an art of questioning as it makes us question what is real, what is human nature and what is life. And this play forces us to question the boundary between freedom and morality.”

“My first reaction to the story of Top Secret was thinking that such an event can not possibly happen in China. The seed of democracy in this country, without doubt, still needs long-term cultivation.”

Top Secret in the U.S. may just be a docu-drama, but in China, it’s reality. The talk after the performance was canceled due to fear of “unforeseen consequences”… Abraham Lincoln once said that ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.’ The drama is a wake-up call for all Chinese citizens . Freedom or slavery, the choice is yours, my dear friends! ”

“An action is worth a thousand words. Each scene in The Battle of the Pentagon Papers is filled with rich meanings, historical facts and ideas…The victory of the Washington Post owes in part to the structure and principles of the U.S. political system. In China, long-term efforts are needed to earn the freedom of the press. However, if we can not say the truth, we can at least make sure we do not tell lies.”

“The fact that the Americans came all the way to China to talk about transparency in the government’s operation is worthy of recognition.”

“The playwright represented a historical event as a documentary on the stage by virtue of his deep grounding in journalism and the legal world, using series of captivating dialogues, inviting the audience onto a journey on the time machine back to the point in time when the event took place… I have never seen a play with such simple stage design, so simple to the extent where there was almost no sets or props. Plots and lines were the main tools of communication with the audience. The actors’ excellent performance made me appreciate the infinite charm of stage play. It was indeed a very professional cast!”

“…More often than not, a documentary play regarding such a serious topic might turn out to be extremely boring. They have a tendency of talking way too much about facts and past events. I was pleasantly surprised by the short clip manner that this production played out with its storyline. The Battle for the Pentagon Papers followed a style of minimalism. This means that the play had strived to keep its sets and props as simple as possible. During the entire show, there were only a few chairs and a desk on the stage. Therefore, the success of the play would be heavily influenced by the dialogues between the actors.

The actors of exhibited a strong combination of gestures and dialogues that kept the audience amused and entertained. You know what? I could go on and on about how great the play’s technicality is, but the most moving part about this play is the message it tried to communicate…

…China has its own series of problems concerning censorship. The government has almost absolute control over most mainstream media. This meant that most stories or news that a paper finds must go through an elaborate screening process before it is approved for the public’s eyes. This goes into direct conflict with what the play was trying to say. The sole purpose of all media is supposed to be for the exposure of truth for the general public, which was the message of the play. The mainstream media in China have a different purpose. They, unfortunately, are “employed” by the government. This means that they no longer are writing for truth but instead for the government. In this scenario, the media act as the Public Relations officer. They essentially are in charge of all the publicity stunts. This means that they shield away the darker side of society. This play undoubtedly had left all the audience members with a deep impression. When I left the theater, I was left wondering what if freedom of press becomes available in China…”

“It was my first time to watch a stage play featuring an American cast. The most interesting aspect of the play was that the characters were also narrators. The background music feels very real.”

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