Metro Weekly

‘Ink’ Review: Media Spin

An outstanding ensemble keeps "Ink" flowing, despite the production's more cumbersome touches.

Ink -- Photo:  Margot Schulman
Ink — Photo: Margot Schulman

Jason Loewith’s bustling staging of James Graham’s Tony-winning drama Ink (★★★☆☆), co-produced by Round House and Olney, combines a talented cast with titillating text for a thorough chronicle of Rupert Murdoch’s typically rude 1969 takeover of British tabloid The Sun.

Cody Nickell, portraying the paper’s exacting editor Larry Lamb, supplies the steady, galvanizing force that drives the story of how Lamb, handpicked by Australian media baron Murdoch (Andrew Rein), assembled a ragtag squad of Fleet Street vets who would carry out Rupe’s directive to create a paper for the people. Its first act structured as a countdown to The Sun‘s unlikely launch, the production gathers steam as Lamb gathers his A-team.

Yet, there’s one workhorse in this production who often upstages D.C. faves like Craig Wallace, as Lamb’s former mentor and boss Hugh Cudlipp, and Ryan Rilette, who scores as Sun sports editor and self-described hack Frank Nicklin. The scene-stealer is the stage, or more specifically, the sturdy concentric turntables set in the Round House stage that Loewith overuses to the point of distraction.

Rotating furniture on and off, and the cast round and round, the revolves add movement, if not always pace or tension, to intricate transitions, theatrical montages of hushed drink meetings, and frantic races to meet deadlines. There is occasionally the tension that comes with awareness of the machinery and everyone atop it revolving, not quite quietly, in the midst of moments seemingly better suited to stillness.

Ink -- Photo:  Margot Schulman
Ink: Cody Nickell, Andrew Rein — Photo: Margot Schulman

The shifting perspectives, at best evoking the cinematic effect of elegant camera moves, also undercut the sense of where characters are supposed to be within the specific space of a bar or office. Tony Cisek’s scenery doesn’t define those spaces, but offers an eye-catching backdrop for dramatic entrances and exits, and for Mike Tutaj’s dynamic projections.

Matthew M. Nielson’s sound design, with ambient noise at times sounding as if it drifted over from another show, can actually obscure matters further. The period costumes by Debra Kim Sivigny do their job to help fuse the elements together, and bring to life the cigarettes-and-brandy era of Graham’s play.

Taken as a keenly topical origin story of Murdoch’s brand of so-called popular journalism, Ink, as dramaturg Naysan Mojgani notes in the playbill, aims to tell how the world became the way it is. That is, firmly divided, thanks in no small part to the machinations of Murdoch media outlets from The Sun to later acquisitions The New York Post and FOX News.

Heralding the mogul’s cynical play to the masses with news that entertains — i.e., sex, scandal, and righteous outrage — the play posits Murdoch as not just a bully but a prophet. An amoral, but not unfeeling, puppet master, he knows what strings to pull to unlock the profitability of rage.

An impishly cunning mastermind, as rendered in Rein’s amusing performance, Murdoch is right about one thing, that the Establishment isn’t right about everything. Despite warning against him and his ilk, the show more or less rallies behind Murdoch and Lamb as revolutionaries.

Ink joins those ubiquitous election-time local news trips to Trump voter diners as media that purport to just want to probe all sides of the divide, but rather offer up tribute to a con artist, or in this case, the architects of fake news.

The show also offers its cast a colorful set of characters to play, including Joyce Hopkirk, Fashion and Women’s Editor, strikingly rendered by Kate Eastwood Norris as a proud feminist resisting some retrograde cultural standards, while, to her own dismay, upholding a few of the worst ones. Michael Glenn delivers crack comic timing as Deputy Editor Bernard Shrimsley, and in a brief but funny turn as an overtaxed voiceover actor.


Rock solid are Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, as stalwart News Editor Brian McConnell, and Wallace as old-school publishing boss Cudlipp, who sells Murdoch The Sun and lives to regret it. The play indicates that Cudlipp wielded great foresight of his own. He warns Lamb that pandering to the lowest base will create a terrible appetite that he’ll have to keep feeding. Cudlipp isn’t wrong, but Ink is no tribute to him.

Ink runs through September 24 at the Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway in Bethesda, Md. Tickets are $46 to $88, with discount options available, including 2-For-1 Tuesday. Call 240-644-1100, or visit

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