The Production


In the latest version of Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, LA Theatre Works partnered with Ping Pong Productions to take the production on a 3-week tour of China.  They played to sold-out crowds in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing.  Check out the blog for more information on the tour, the post-performance discussions, and media coverage of this remarkable event.

Top Secret Makes its Off-Broadway Debut

Originally produced by LA Theatre Works, Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons made its off-broadway debut at New York Theatre Workshop Feb. 24 – Mar. 28, 2010, directed by John Rubinstein. Presented by New York Theatre Workshop, LA Theatre Works, and Affinity Collaborative TheatrePlaywright’s & Producer’s Notes and Disclaimer. Theater info.

Writing in Vogue, Graydon Carter calls Top Secret “quite magnificent.”  Reviewing the play during its national tour in 2008, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Howard Shapiro writes “I was processing Vietnam – but thinking Iraq. Top Secret vigorously maintains that the American press is not just a prodder and inciter; it has a rigorous job to do in order for democracy to work … it resonates directly into this decade… it’s all the sharper for its dramatic nuance, for plumbing the jittery politics of the ’70s and the internal machinations of the Post.”

USC’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy Post-Show Discussions

In conjunction with the 2010 New York production, USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy presented TOP SECRET TALKS, a month-long series of panel discussions with leading journalists, scholars and policymakers about the contemporary lessons of the pentagon papers story.  As issues of government classification—and declassification—continue to confront our nation and the Internet opens new frontiers for the disclosure of confidential information, TOP SECRET TALKS presented a timely examination of the tension between the government’s need for secrecy and the public’s right to know.  Individual TOP SECRET TALKS programs were presented by organizations such as the Columbia Journalism Review, Human Rights Watch, NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, the Asia Society, and the Center for Public Integrity.  Speakers included Daniel Ellsberg, the former Defense and State Department official who gave the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post; legendary Washington Post investigative reporter Carl Bernstein; Leslie Gelb, who led the Department of Defense project that produced the Pentagon Papers; New York Times managing editor Jill Abramson; Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli; and playwright Geoffrey Cowan; among others.  More information and audio can be found here.

NYTW Cast and Production Details

The NYTW production starred Kathryn Meisle as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and Peter Strauss as Post managing editor Ben Bradlee, along with Diane Adair (Meg Greenfield), Larry Pine (Richard Nixon/Dennis Doolin), Larry Bryggman (John Mitchell/Chal Roberts), James Gleason (Judge Martin Peel/Murry Marder), John Getz (Ben Bagdikian, Robert Mardian), Jack Gilpin (Brian Kelly), Matt McGrath (George Wilson/Eugene Patterson), Peter Van Norden (Fritz Beebe and Henry Kissinger), and Russell Soder (Soldier/Darryl Cox/Clerk & Bailiff/Ron Ziegler). The show featured Lighting Design by David Lander; Costume Design by Holly Poe Durbin; and Production Stage Management by Jennifer Grutza.

The 2010 NYC run had special significance for New York Theatre Workshop, as its founding trustee Stephen Graham is the son of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham who plays a key role in the drama, narrating the Post’s experience.

More on Top Secret

Top Secret asks an enduring question: In a democratic society, when and how long, if ever, should the government be allowed to keep secrets in the name of national security? Top Secret provides a dramatic look at The Washington Post’s decision to publish information from the classified study documenting U.S. involvement in Vietnam after a federal court had shut down publication by The New York Times. The ensuing court battle over the potential national security threat posed by publication tested the parameters of the First Amendment – and focused a spotlight on the conflict between government and the press. The epic legal battle went to the nation’s highest court – arguably the most important Supreme Court case ever on freedom of the press.  Playwright Geoffrey Cowan provides more information on the origins of the play and its relation to the historic events it depicts in his Playwright’s Notes to the NYTW production, available here.

The Playwrights

Geoffrey Cowan is a University Professor and holder of the Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, where he also directs the Center on Communication Leadership. He served as dean of the USC Annenberg School from 1996 to 2007. He teaches courses and conducts research in media, law and society and public diplomacy. In 2007, he was elected to be the Walter Lippman Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Before coming to USC, Cowan served under President Clinton as director of the Voice of America and director of the International Broadcasting Bureau. In other public service roles, Cowan served on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, chaired the Los Angeles commission that drafted the city’s ethics and campaign finance law, and chaired the California Bipartisan Commission on Internet Political Practices. He is an award-winning and best selling author whose books include See No Evil: The Backstage Battle Over Sex and Violence on Television and The People v. Clarence Darrow: The Bribery Trial of America’s Greatest Lawyer. With Leroy Aarons, he co-wrote Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, a play about the tension between a free press and government secrecy that will be featured in a national tour during the 2007-08 season. During the 2007-2008 academic year he will be a Fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He won a primetime Emmy in 1992 for his work as an executive producer of the Disney Channel movie Mark Twain & Me. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School and is married to Aileen Adams. They have two children, Gabriel and Mandy.

Roy Aarons was an award-winning journalist, editor, author and playwright. Aarons earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University and by age 27 was city editor at his first paper, the Journal-Register in New Haven. He reported on some of pivotal moments of the 1960s from the Beatles’ arrival in America to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. He covered events of the 1960s and 1970s over 14 years as chief of The Washington Post‘s New York and West Coast bureaus. In that capacity, he also covered the California-related events in the Pentagon Papers case, including the information about Daniel Ellsberg’s time at RAND and how the papers were taken from the RAND headquarters. He served an accuracy consultant for — and appeared in — the film All the President’s Men. In 1982, he spent a year in Israel, covering among other things the Israel-Lebanon war as a freelancer for Time magazine. In 1983 he joined his former Washington Post colleague Robert Maynard at the Oakland Tribune, and eventually became executive editor and vice-president of the Oakland Tribune and during the 1980s. In 1989, the Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for photographic coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Two years later, Aarons left the Tribune to pursue various writing projects: Prayers for Bobby, a book about the suicide of a young gay man; a libretto for an opera about the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers. In addition to his reporting, Aarons was active in journalism education and diversity advocacy. He was co-founder of the Maynard Institute For Journalism Education, a training program for minority journalists, and was leader of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. Until his death in November 2004, he was a visiting professor of journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communications where he taught courses on gay issues and the media. Aarons was also supervising research on press coverage of gay and lesbian issues within Annenberg’s Journalism Department.

The Producing Organizations

About L.A. Theatre Works Founded in 1974, the mission of L.A. Theatre Works (LATW) is to enrich the cultural life of our national community through the use of innovative technologies to produce and preserve significant works of dramatic literature on audio, and to assure the widest public access to these great works. Launched in 2005, L.A. Theatre Works’ National Touring Program has expanded the organization’s mission to provide access to significant works of theatre by audiences nationwide by bringing a range of classic and contemporary plays to civic and university performing arts centers across the country.  From originally commissioned docudramas which address topical, burning issues such as The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial and Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers to classic comedies such as Private Lives, L.A. Theatre Works employs a slightly expanded version (which includes costumes and minimal sets) of the same unique live radio theatre style performance presented in its regular ten-play The Play’s the Thing live in-performance series at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. To date, L.A. Theatre Works has delighted and challenged audiences in over 100 small towns and major cities across the nation with theatre that is immediate, spontaneous, and features a first-rate cast, live sound effects, and a connection to the audience rarely felt in a traditional theatrical setting. In addition, L.A. Theatre Works collaborates with our presenting venues and local public radio stations in each community to provide additional outreach and special programming including one-time broadcasts of the performance, panel discussions with the actors, directors, writers and leading subject experts, and performances for local area high school students. LATW currently operates four primary programs; The Play’s The Thing, Alive & Aloud, Library Access, and the Arts & Children Project. The Play’s The Thing is a live in-performance radio theatre series, in Los Angeles, featuring leading actors in ten state-of-the-art audio productions a year. L.A. Theatre Works, through its weekly broadcasts, make theatre widely and easily accessible to audiences nationwide. These audiences experience radio drama that is contemporary, edgy, and significant through this award-winning, critically-acclaimed radio theatre series, heard weekly on public radio stations throughout the United States as well as on XM Satellite Radio’s Sonic Theatre Channel. Additionally, international audiences listen to the series on the BBC and other English Language broadcasters. The Play’s The Thing is also accessible for streaming on the Internet at and, and is available for digital download at and All productions become part of LATW’s extensive Audio Theatre Collection, which can be purchased in bookstores, through our catalogue and on the internet by individuals, schools, universities, and libraries nationwide. Today, our Audio Theatre Collection includes more than 360 titles-the largest award-winning library of its kind in the world. Alive & Aloud provides a selection of audio plays to more than 2,000 public secondary schools and libraries nationwide. Participating schools receive our plays accompanied by study guides and resource materials for classroom application. The audio plays provide a unique learning tool that allows teachers to incorporate the arts into every classroom subject, from English to History. In 1999, after experiencing much interest in our Audio Theatre Collection from libraries nationwide, Library Access was founded. L.A. Theatre Works has partnered with over 900 public libraries in rural and densely urban communities to provide five titles from our collection at no charge. Along with the audio plays, librarians are provided with posters and press releases to promote the availability of audio theatre in their libraries. Since 1984, L.A. Theatre Works’ Arts & Children Project has worked with over 75,000 incarcerated and at-risk students within Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Schools, after-school programs, and public schools. Highly skilled artists provide workshops in the literary, performing and visual arts. The Arts & Children Project unlocks a creative outlet for this disadvantaged population and provides these underserved youth a voice within their community.


About New York Theatre Workshop  New York Theatre Workshop is a remarkable off-Broadway theatre noted for its acclaimed and innovative productions… a workshop where artists create new work, hone their craft and collaboratively explore theatre… all rooted in our cozy East Village digs located in the heart of New York’s downtown arts scene. NYTW is committed to the development of innovative theatre by supporting theatre artists at all stages of their careers, providing an environment where work can be created free from the artistic compromise and forbidding financial demands often associated with commercial ventures. Over the past two decades, NYTW has evolved to become a significant force in New York City’s vibrant cultural landscape and is now recognized as one of the leading producing theatres of original work in the United States. The Workshop places the artist at the center of its mission, and, as a result, the work developed and produced here is aesthetically, thematically, and methodologically diverse. During the course of a season, audiences can engage with an eclectic mix of theatre, including full-scale musicals, bare-bones readings, and multimedia productions. NYTW is renowned for producing intelligent and complex plays that expand the boundaries of theatrical form and in some new and compelling way address issues that are critical to our times. The Workshop boasts a long list of acclaimed work that includes Tony Kushner’s Slavs! and Homebody/Kabul, Martha Clarke’s KAOS and Vienna: Lusthaus (revisited), Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest, Far Away and A Number, Jonathan Larson’s Rent, Athol Fugard’s My Children! My Africa!, John Guare’s Lydie Breeze, Doug Wright’s Quills, Claudia Shear’s Blown Sideways Through Life and Dirty Blonde, and Ivo van Hove’s productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Hedda Gabler. Will Power’s hip-hop Greek tragedy The Seven will be seen around the country in upcoming years.

NYTW supports artists through all phases of their work, from experimentation in the rehearsal studio to presentation before an audience. The Workshop’s Artist Development Activities form a wide range of creative learning opportunities essential to our mission of supporting the artistic growth of emerging and established theatre artists. Through readings, small-scale studio productions, artist residencies, fellowships, and a cultural exchange program, NYTW provides a distinctive array of collaborations between artists and staff. Suspects Abroad, NYTW’s cultural exchange program, is a particularly notable feature which provides opportunities for members of NYTW’s artist community to travel in small groups to major performing arts festivals around the world for a total theatre immersion experience and to begin dialogues with theatre artists from different countries.

How the artistic work is received by the public is an important facet of our work as well. To that end, the Workshop’s education initiatives engage artists and audiences in a discourse about the work, bringing everyone closer to the creative process. Learning Workshop offers classroom residencies, after-school workshops, and special student matinees for middle school and high school students. Public programs offer audiences of all ages and backgrounds forums for nuanced discussion of the issues raised in NYTW’s productions through post-performance talkbacks, online exchanges, and special events.

Affinity Collaborative Theater merges the cultural interests and professional experiences of three friends — Sheila Schwartz, John Dias and Diane Morrison — in order to produce entertaining and provocative theatre through the creation of artistic partnerships and institutional collaborations. Affinity began in the fall of 2007 with a collaboration with St. Ann’s Warehouse to bring The National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch to New York. Affinity followed this with a theatrical production of W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio directed by Michael Cumpsty, which has become our signature Holiday presentation.