“The Shot” gives an in-depth view of a modern titaness

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Sharon Lawrence holding a shot gun
The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company

Katharine Graham was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

Sharon Lawrence standing with arms crossed and holding her glasses in her left hand
The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company

When one hears the name, Katharine Graham, one thinks of the publisher of The Washington Post during the scandalous Nixon administration. Graham, facing the possibility of imprisonment and the loss of her newspaper, stood firm to protect the freedom of the press with the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

She was the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the privileged daughter of Eugene Mayer, who purchased the Post in 1933, and the glamorous wife of Phil Graham, who inherited the Post from Mayer. 

In Robin Gerber’s play The Shot, the curtain is pulled back to reveal Graham’s years of psychological abuse, first at the hands of her mother Agnes, then increasingly coupled with physical abuse by her husband. Playwright Gerber, a biographer of Graham and historical expert on Eleanor Roosevelt, in her first play, reveals strikingly how domestic abuse and violence know no boundaries of class or wealth.

Acclaimed actress Sharon Lawrence takes on the daunting task of embodying Graham in this one-person show. While on its own, the play is good, Ms. Lawrence’s virtuoso performance makes it great. She not only embodies Katharine Graham but also brings Phil Graham and Agnes Mayer, her abusers, to life. Her skill at not only portraying Phil and Agnes but also, without being overt, giving the audience cues as to the rationales behind their abuses is nothing short of amazing. The fact that Lawrence does this while transitioning smoothly in and out of Katherine’s persona makes one understand why she is one of the outstanding actresses of our time.

Lawrence is adroitly guided in her performance by the skilled and sensitive direction of Michelle Joyner. Between them, they create the intertwined worlds of Katharine Graham — the glittering high society of Washington and New York and the dark, private world of child and spousal abuse to which Graham was subjected – and present them as a seamless whole.

Sharon Lawrence sitting on a desk with her arms stretched out to her sides.
The Shot: Sharon Lawrence performing as Katharine Graham. Photo from New Jersey Repertory Company

Sharon Lawrence’s shattering performance in The Shot is triumphant, as is this play. All lovers of the theatre, including sophisticated theatre-goers, aficionados of fine acting, and especially those of us who lived through the tumultuous Nixon years, owe it to themselves, to ourselves, to see this show during its all-too-brief run. I cannot more strongly urge you to go.

The Shot is presented by the New Jersey Repertory Company at the Lumia Theatre in Long Branch through April 23, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to njrep.org or call 732-229-3166.

Allen Neuner
Allen Neuner is the theater reviewer at Out in Jersey magazine. Jersey born and raised, Allen went to his first Broadway play in 1957 and has been deliriously in love with live theater ever since. Allen has been accepted into the American Theatre Critics Association, a professional organization of theatre journalists. He has been partnered to music reviewer Bill Realman Stella, with whom he is also deliriously in love, for over 20 years. They live in an over-cluttered house in Somerville.