The acclaimed actor performs in the standout solo show, The Shot, which imagines the pre-publisher days of Katharine Graham. The three-day run is at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts through Sunday.
The Shot, a debut play by established author Robin Gerber, imagines the pre-power years of Katharine Graham, who’d later become publisher of the Washington Post and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon Papers. It’s a natural fit for the writer, whose books include a Graham biography, a biography-of-sorts of both the Barbie doll and creator Ruth Handler, and leadership chronicles of Eleanor Roosevelt during some of the country’s most trying times.
But The Shot is no dry recitation of facts some might expect from a bio-play — indeed, Gerber is careful to point out this is a work of fiction, relying on imagination to fill in the gaps, alongside her stacks of research. This bio-play of sorts is much more concerned with the emotions of rebuilding.
For the most part, that means going into the depths of Graham’s early adult years, dominated by her lawyer husband’s insecurities, burgeoning bipolar disorder and alcoholism, and ever-more-controlling — and unhinged — behavior. The play’s title, The Shot, alludes to her chance to rebuild herself just as loudly as it does to his death by suicide.
No one said this would be an easy play to watch. But it is a spectacular one.
In the hands of acclaimed actor Sharon Lawrence, who originated the role and has performed throughout its development, this 75-minute solo show sweeps you right up into Graham’s world — in all its disappointment, confinement, and promise. From even a glance at her bio, you probably already know Graham could go far. But by the end of this play, you can feel it. And you know it was no easy climb.
Director Michelle Joyner, who’s also been with this play through its development, beginning at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, sets a tone that balances legendary and failingly human. Ultimately, that’s what The Shot is about: grasping the ugly depths that Graham went through — belittled by her elders, devalued by colleagues and societal expectation, physically and psychologically abused by her husband’s ever-present insecurities and ever-possible rage — in order to appreciate her rise. Daddy may have owned the paper, but her ascension to the Post‘s helm, and what she accomplished when she got there, was far from assured.
Lawrence’s portrayal showcases Graham as one-of-a-kind, a keen mind with a steely resolve. Gerber’s framing of that story, meanwhile, reminds just how often women are expected to step back and let men take all — from bodily autonomy to the boardroom.
The Shot runs through 7/9 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. Tickets are $32-$47, here. (Website also notes a $20 option with request to the box office.) Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall. Theatre and common areas are wheelchair accessible.
Good to know: Once you’ve made it through the line, Whidbey Island is a very fast (and relatively cheap) ferry ride from Mukilteo, just north of Seattle.
Run time: 75 minutes, no intermission.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.