There is little that qualifies as news in Above the Fold, former New York Times writer Bernard Weinraub's heavy-handed play about ambition and media bias in the age of the 24-hour news cycle.
Jane (Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson), a reporter at a New York Times – esque daily, is sent south to cover an uninspiring congressional election, only to happen upon a career-making story. The day she arrives, the city's prosecutor (a cunningly charming Mark Hildreth) drops out of the race to head up a high-profile case: A local African-American woman (Kristy Johnson) has accused three college boys of raping and beating her at a frat party.]
What follows is a predictable lamentation about the ways in which the fourth estate has been corrupted by an Internet-fueled rush to judgment.
Director Steven Robman moves the plot deftly through its paces, aided by very talented actors but not terribly compelling characters. Though Jane eventually will emerge as the conscience of the play, Fold doesn't seem to take Jane seriously as a reporter – at one point she gets schooled by a journalism major; at another, she downs a shot of vodka in the middle of an interview.
Veteran stage and TV actor Arye Gross does an admirable job trying to find the humor and dramatic tension in his overly expository role as her ethically compromised editor, but Johnson, who must morph from likable to suspiciously shrewd and ultimately all too human, walks away with the juiciest part.
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; through Feb. 23. 626.356.7529. www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: