Taraji P. Henson Rises ‘Above the Fold’

Actress Taraji P. Henson gives a strong performance in the stage play, "Above the Fold." Photo Credit: Jim Cox
Actress Taraji P. Henson gives a strong performance in the stage play, “Above the Fold.” Photo Credit: Jim Cox

PASADENA-Going to see the stage play, “Above the Fold,” is like going back down memory lane. It’s uncomfortable to take in at times, but it brings out the best and worst of people-black, brown, white, blue or purple.

“Above the Fold,” which stars the talented Taraji P. Henson, pretty much explores the infamous Duke Lacrosse rape case in which three white student-athletes were accused of beating and raping a young black woman.

Of course, when the truth finally came out, a lot of heads rolled with the outcome, including the lead prosecutor who wound up losing his license to practice law for unethical conduct.  The case, which stirred the nation’s interest because of the subplots of race, sex and violence, is the modern day parameter of what not to do if you’re an elected official seeking to stay in office.

So now, years later we get the opportunity to get the scenario staged along those lines in “Above the Fold.” Henson, who plays Jane, a black reporter with ambitions of her own, was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the hit film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” It’s likely the lovely Henson will pick up some hardware along the way for her latest performance, which is done in a more studious way than any of her other roles.

Henson, who got her big break in the movie, “Baby Boy,” has played characters with strong personalities and fiery disposition.  In “Above the Fold,” which runs through Sunday at the Pasadena Playhouse in Pasadena, California, Henson gives a kudos performance as she takes the audience on the methodical journey of a reporter investigating a hot button news story.

Jane’s boss, Marvin (Arye Gross) goes instant spin mode as he visualizes the race-baiting case turning into national headlines. Effectively manipulating the race card, Marvin sends his black female reporter (Jane) to cover the case.

A black woman sitting and meeting another black woman who has been allegedly violated would give Jane and her boss a coup for the paper with so-called insider’s information. At least that is what they were hoping for.

Marvin envision the big picture in covering the case, which is why he sends Jane to the small southern town in which the allege rape took place to find out what’s going on. Well, what’s going on is that you have a prosecutor (Mark Hildreth) running for reelection looking for an edge over his opponents.

He gets it with the allegation that three white students (Kristopher Higgins, Joe Massingill and Seamus Mulchay) beat and rapes this young black mother. Kristy Johnson (Monique) gives a more than credible performance as the black woman supposedly raped by the three white students.

Taraji P. Henson and Kristy Johnson act out a scene "Above the Fold." Photo Credit: Jim Cox
Taraji P. Henson and Kristy Johnson act out a scene in “Above the Fold.” Photo Credit: Jim Cox

Actually, Johnson almost steals the show from Henson by fabulously depicting  a confused woman who doesn’t quite know how to get out of a situation she put herself in without going down the road and flipping the switch in accusing the three white students of what historically has been something black men has been charged in regards to white women.

What Johnson’s role demonstrate is the dangers of falsely accusing someone or individuals of sexual assault or rape. It has ramifications for everyone including those in the media who at time bend stories just enough to sensationalize them.

As Jane goes through the whole process of uncovering the facts, she goes on her own journey with Monique, finding commonality in sisterhood but then rediscovering she was in town to get a story. In doing so, Jane starts to question Monique’s behavior and deadbeat attitude after being allegedly raped. Monique’s character becomes more and flawed as Jane get to the business of being a reporter.

As the pressure is turned up, Monique begins to flip-flop on her story about the night when the three white students sexually assaulted her. This is when Henson really shines as an actress.   Henson has that “it” presence as a top-notch thespian. She shows as much as she pointedly goes after the three students and hammer Monique. Henson delivers her role like a 95-mph fastball pitcher: with impact. This is what makes “Above the Fold” worth seeing.

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