Well-known as a best-selling author, public interest lawyer, academic administrator, government official, distinguished professor, and Emmy Award-winning producer, CCLP director Geoffrey Cowan is also a notable playwright who will be honored by LA Theatre Works to celebrate their decades-long collaboration.
Cowan has worked with LA Theatre Works for 25 years on his award-winning play Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, which originally premiered as a radio play in 1991 in front of a live audience for national broadcast on NPR and later toured the country in 2007-8, had a five week run in New York City in 2010, and played to audiences throughout China in 2011 and 2013. The play celebrates the importance of the press, the First Amendment, and an independent judiciary. In New York and China CCLP presented “Top Secret Talks,” a series of panel discussions with leading journalists, scholars and policymakers about the contemporary lessons of the Pentagon Papers story.
“Geoffrey Cowan has been a significant person in the life of LA Theatre Works since 1991, when I called him to ask a question about a constitutional issue which he answered and then let me know that he had written a play,” said Susan Loewenberg, producing director for LA Theatre Works. “That casual remark turned into almost a quarter of a century of fruitful collaboration between Geoff and LATW. Geoff is truly a Renaissance man and we are honored to be honoring him.”
LA Theatre Works is a non-profit media arts organization based in Los Angeles whose mission for over 25 years has been to present, preserve and disseminate classic and contemporary plays.
Co-written by Cowan and pioneering journalist and teacher Leroy Aarons, Top Secret is an inside look at the Washington Post‘s decision to publish a top-secret study documenting the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. The subsequent trial tested the parameters of the First Amendment, pitting the public’s right to know against the government’s claim of secrecy. The epic legal battle between the government and the press went to the nation’s highest court and is perhaps the most important Supreme Court case ever on freedom of the press.
In its review, the Associated Press called Top Secret “an engaging, well-acted, historical drama by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons. With cloak-and-dagger intrigue, government suppression, courtroom drama and an unusual theatrical format, the play will please theater enthusiasts and history buffs alike. The ‘write what you know’ maxim couldn’t be more apropos in this case, evidenced by Cowan and Aarons’ clear presentation of the facts and splendidly nuanced dialogue, which consistently rings true.”
“It has been a terrific partnership on this play,” said Cowan. “I’m proud to have worked with LA Theatre Works all these years, and thrilled to celebrate the intersection of education, culture, and these important issues of free speech, free press, and independent judiciary.”
In 2011, LA Theatre Works partnered with Ping Pong Productions to take the production on a 3-week tour of China. The group played to sold-out crowds in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. In June 2013 Top Secret returned to China for a second tour that the the New York Times called a “spare, fast-paced docudrama,” and the New Yorker called “thrilling.”
Cowan with his wife Aileen Adams at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center
Cowan said the play started in a classroom with a course he taught on media law at UCLA, then wound up in a theatre, using the stage as a classroom. LA Theatre Works uses Top Secret and other plays to provide lessons for thousands of students in all 50 states.
The March 25 gala will include a presentation of the pivotal “Freedom of the Press” scene from the play, featuring the full cast. Ed Asner, Ed Begley, Jr., Jane Fonda, and other respected artists of stage and screen will perform excerpts from Top Secret and other plays. Visit latw.org/gala for tickets and more information.