When the house opens for Murrow’s Boys, currently playing at Brooklyn’s gorgeous Irondale Center, the eight member ensemble dances onstage. To get to the house seats, newly arriving audience members cross through the performance space, where the cast invites them to join in the revelry. The casual intimacy of ensmemble members’ invitations is warm, startling, and a bit awkward. It is a perfect note on which to start a play that depicts the fits and starts which accompanied the advent of broadcast journalism, a medium that offered listeners an unprecedentedly personal connection to foreign events. Edward R. Murrow, recently memorialized by George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck as the TV reporter who refused to be cowed by McCarthyism, is here depicted at the start of his journalism career. As chief Europe radio correspondent for CBS, Murrow put together a team of reporters who launched their careers – and, in a sense, radio – by bringing World War II home to the American public. The team came to be known as Murrow’s Boys; Murrow’s Boys tells their story.
It’s compelling stuff: a smart group of journalists inexperienced in radio cuts their teeth covering one of the biggest events in human history. The ensemble cast does a solid job of bringing an everyday affability to characters who find themselves tasked with the thrilling if frightening job of relaying international news in a time of crisis. Gabriel King’s Murrow is a principled young man and an enthused workalholic with a dignified confidence in his team. Kate Garfield, as Mary Marvin Breckenridge, “the only woman among the Boys,” has the self possessesion and poise required of a clever career woman who must assume from the first that her job will eventually go to a man (and it does). Exhaustive research into each member of Murrow’s team clearly went into the production, and it is impressive how seamlessly woven together their stories appear onstage. Still more detailed biographies are available on the Irondale website, at url.
Written by director Jim Neisen, together with the Irondale Ensemble, and utilizing copy of broadcasts written by the reporters whose lives the play depicts, Murrow’s Boys is part performed history, part media investigation. As a means of reminding audiences how timely it is to think about how people consume news and the impact of mediation on public opinion – what voices inform how we think? – the production intersperses its historical drama with snippets of present day voices. “I'm standing in for a ….” begins each of these segments, in which an ensemble member lists a few demographical attributions (region, age), before sharing a first person account of how that person gets the news (Fox News, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert), and why. Those segments do a sufficient job of extending the play’s focus into the present day, but the connections are already there, ever present themes of the historical drama. The real heart of the production lies in its narration of the how a new medium altered the landscape of war journalism.
Despite contemporary fixation with our own new media (and the ensuing, so-called “twitter revolutions,”) Murrow’s Boys suggests an extent to which new media merely provide a new perspective to atrocities that have long existed. It deserves special credit for its brief depiction of the liberation of Buchenwald, which a recitation of Murrow’s famous broadcast from the Concentration Camp underscores. Theatrical depictions of the Holocaust (indeed, depictions of the Holocaust in any medium) are fraught with complicated issues of representation. Murrows Boys succeeds with an enactment that is simultaneously horrific and respectful, quiet and moving, experiential and removed.
Murrow's Boy's has just been extended through June 3rd. Don't miss it.