This weekend, former “West Wing” stars Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, Joshua Malina, and Ed Begley Jr. took part in a live reading of William Goldman’s Oscar-winning “All the President’s Men” screenplay at Los Angeles City Hall. The January 27 performance commenced in the marble-columned Council Chamber, where audience members in wooden pews faced the 20-person cast, who temporarily occupied legislators’ desks and high-backed leather chairs.
Stephen Sachs, the co-founder and co-artistic director of Los Angeles’ Fountain Theatre, created the free event and served as the show’s director. “News journalists and artists are the enemy of dishonest leaders, because we are the truth tellers,” he said. “I am so proud of our city. What other major city in the country would hand over City Hall to its artists?”
“All the President’s Men” (1976) was adapted from the 1974 book of the same name by Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, whose reporting on the Watergate scandal — instigated by an election-year break-in at the Democratic National Committee Headquarters — led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford respectively assumed their roles in the film, directed by Alan J. Pakula to eight Oscar nominations and four wins.
At City Hall, Malina and Whitford portrayed the enterprising duo. Woodward’s critical, anonymous FBI source, nicknamed “Deep Throat” until he publicly revealed his identity as Mark Felt in 2005, was played by “Scandal” Emmy winner Joe Morton. Schiff, Begley Jr., and Jeff Perry — who guest starred on season four of “The West Wing” — assumed the roles of Washington Post editors Howard Simons, Harry M. Rosenfeld, and Ben Bradlee.
Photo by Genevieve Marie Photography
Current Best Picture Oscar nominee “The Post” is set at the same newspaper, immediately prior to Watergate (with Tom Hanks channeling Bradlee). Liz Hannah, that film’s 31-year-old co-writer, attended the reading, along with “Transparent” actress Amy Landecker, and multiple Emmy and Tony Award recipient Judd Hirsch.
Donations benefited the Society for Professional Journalists, and fellow sponsors included the Los Angeles Press Club and the American Civil Liberties Union. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell of Los Angeles’ 13th District hosted.
In his opening remarks, O’Farrell described the present day as a “traumatic era” and “a very challenging time for our entire country.” “We have a commander-in-chief who does not respect or even understand the freedoms embedded in our own Constitution or its First Amendment,” he said, earning applause.
O’Farrell continued, “The Trump administration’s war on the First Amendment includes repeated degradations of the role of media in our society, and repeated invocations of ‘fake news’ when the absolute truth does not suit him; blacklisting press outlets on occasion, including — and not ironically — the Washington Post; open discrimination and intolerance under the guise of religious freedom. In Los Angeles, we hold these values dear. Donald Trump and his administration do not represent our values…Art can highlight things that need to change, and draw parallels to historical lessons that could propel humanity forward.”
Another “West Wing” reunion will ensue on March 4 at the Academy Awards. Whitford appeared in Best Picture nominee “Get Out;” his erstwhile co-star, Allison Janney, is the Best Supporting Actress favorite for “I, Tonya;” and the series’ creator, Aaron Sorkin, is up for Best Adapted Screenplay (“Molly’s Game”).