Tearing Down the Wall

Great Wall Story, by Lloyd Suh, opens at the Denver Center this week, having begun life with a staged reading at last year's New Play Summit. It is based on one of those tall tales that just happen to be true. In 1899, a small group of Denver journalists who had suffered a few too many slow news days decided to make up a story: All of their papers would report that the Great Wall of China was being torn down to facilitate commerce. To localize the piece, they invented a visiting Chicago engineer on his way to China. The deception was aided by the slow pace of communication in those days, as well as public ignorance about China, and the destruction of the wall became a national story. In a swift, amusing script, Suh imagines the ramifications of this piece of trickery -- personal, professional and political -- even taking on board the rumor (untrue) that the hoax actually sparked the Boxer rebellion. He brings in an investigative reporter modeled on the famous Nelly Bly to unmask the deception.

The script has fun evoking a time when several dailies competed for Denver readers' attention; it's also fun to compare the reporters' insouciant approach to truth with the rules governing journalism today -- often still as biased, but generally a whole lot less colorful.

Great Wall Story opens tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ricketson Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and continues through April 22; for tickets, starting at $35, visit www.denvercenter.org or call 303-893-4100.
Fridays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 1:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. Starts: March 16. Continues through April 22, 2012