You might expect that a play that attempts to say something about journalistic ethics — like “The Source,” which is currently playing at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch — would show journalists in action.
But the play — written by Jack Canfora and being presented by NJ Rep as a world premiere, with direction by Evan Bergman — looks at its issue from a distance. Promotional material promises “a story of the power and influence the media has over our society.” But that’s not really what “The Source” is.
Its three characters — Roland (Conan McCarty), Eleanor (Eleanor Handley) and Andrew (Andrew Rein) — are executives at a media empire loosely based on Rupert Murdoch’s. Roland is the hard-driving, no-nonsense, Murdoch-like founder: One of the best things about this production is the fierce, commanding presence McCarty gives him. Roland’s son Andrew is the sardonic, shrugging beneficiary of nepotism — one can’t imagine him rising to any position of authority on his own — and Eleanor is a talented editor who has become a protégé of Roland’s.
The play starts with Eleanor and Andrew in Eleanor’s swanky New York office, waiting for Roland’s arrival. They’re not sure what he’s going to tell them, but they know it’s big. They chat nervously for a while, and then Roland makes his imperial entrance and tells them the news.
It turns out that a phone-hacking scandal that the company was involved in, two years previously, has reared its ugly head, and the company is facing possibly serious consequences.
Later scenes flash back to London (with scenes in a hotel room and Roland’s apartment), two years in the past, when the company was embroiled in the original controversy. Then the play closes back in New York, fast-forwarding to 15 months after the first scene, so we can see how everything played out.
Throughout the play, the characters mull over the company’s original transgressions. But even by the time of the London flashbacks, they had already taken place, and there’s nothing that Roland, Eleanor and Andrew can do about them (if, indeed, they would even want to). So “The Source” is not really a play about journalism, to any significant degree. It’s a play about corporate maneuvering, and the relationships between the characters (including one romantic entanglement). We watch them plot, and manipulate each other, and try to do, mainly, what’s best for themselves, without hurting the company and each other too much.
In other words, it’s a play about the boardroom, not the newsroom. And it’s about the lengths to which rich people with ice water in their veins will go to hold onto their power.
It’s not impossible to create a compelling play of this kind. But these characters are simply too one-dimensional to make us care if they rise or fall. And so I didn’t find “The Source” to be particularly compelling.
“The Source” is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through April 7. Visit njrep.org.