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Strong pacing, acting distinguishes Frost/Nixon
Strong pacing, acting distinguishes Frost/Nixon
by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Frost/Nixon
Paramount Theater
Through May 10


It's true that history repeats itself and if anyone wants proof, go to the Paramount Theater and see Frost/Nixon. Starring Alan Cox and the esteemed Stacy Keach in the respective title roles, the award-winning play by Peter Morgan unfolds nightly before you, at least for the next weekend. For anyone with an interest in politics or just good theater, this show piques the interest.

The subject matter of the play is the now (in) famous interviews between former President Richard Nixon and British talk show personality David Frost. The interviews were conducted over a series of days in 1972 and were to be aired in four intervals. They were the first television interviews Nixon conducted since his resignation and leaving the Presidential office, and Mr. Frost had high hopes with approved subjects including Watergate and Obstruction of Justice. For the first half of the interviews, Richard Nixon held complete control with his staunch, stoic air that has become part of his persona, but in the last part of the sessions, David Frost exposes the president in what has now become a legendary television interview.

Alan Cox plays the cocky British journalist who manages to outbid Mike Wallace among all others to hold the first interview since the presidential resignation. He plays the role with a character arrogance that easily shows the unfamiliar why Frost was popular. The biographic charming personality comes through as we are shown first his flirtation with a fellow airline passenger and then his flirtations with the presidential committee, getting his way in both situations.

Stacy Keach plays former President Richard M. Nixon with careful timing and a subtle energetic force that brings Nixon back to life. Does he look like Richard Nixon? There's enough costuming to create an illusion. Does he sound like Richard Nixon? He does a good enough voice to bring the impersonation a few steps closer. It's the energy - or the lack thereof, considering the subject matter - that makes the former president manifest, making us aware of the potential eruption brimming under the surface's fa├žade. And it's done well. It is only too easy to get caught up in a caricature, but Mr. Keach never once goes there. He holds control of the larger-than-life and brings it down to a humane level. He brings this humanity and humbleness to a persona that could easily be remembered as a politically criminal personality.

It is Peter Morgan's writing that not only earned him the 2007 Tony nomination for Best Play, but also the reason this cast shines. It is mostly the writing, showing a human president opposed to an ogre or fiend that people tend to associate with former public scandals. This Nixon worries about his appearance: if Italian shoes without laces are too effeminate, or if his propensity to perspire and his beard's thick shadow were the cause of his election loss in 1968. It is this precise pacing that allows the audience to connect with the characters in ways that reach beyond their infamous reputations.

The excitement of David Frost is contagious as he first tries to seduce the president, only to find the challenges of getting a word in edgewise. The audience almost wants the stony Nixon to triumph over the cocky talk show host, and we secretly start to smile as the smug Frost realizes he is losing the interview. When a seemingly innocuous statement is found lost in the legal Watergate testimonies, Frost recognizes the presidential quotation for what it is and realizes the power he has found. When the tables are turned, we are at almost as much of a loss as the former president himself, and our sympathy for the figurehead develops. The play does not skip over the Vietnam War, the Watergate Trials or whether or not Nixon obstructed justice in any way. It just focuses on the several days of interviews between these two men.

Those not overtly educated in politics, like myself, should not use that as a reason to avoid seeing this theatrical piece. There is a timeline inside the program, which helps to explain even to the political neophyte a list of characters and where they fit into the scheme. The character of journalist/author Jim Reston (Brian Scambati) also serves as narrator of the show, giving us a brief history of the Nixon administration. This character explains the situations as they happen and, when the time comes, takes his place among the cast.

The only drawback to this presentation is not the fault of the players. It is unfortunately the fault of the theater. Being that this is a "straight play" and there is no orchestration, the acoustics are not the best. More than once I found myself straining to hear what the actors were saying. And since the two-hour play flies by without an intermission, there was no chance to relate this to the sound booth. As I'm sure I'm not the only one who was presented with this situation, I can only assume that the Paramount Theater will make adjustments for future performances of the show.

Frost/Nixon opened on Broadway on May 31, 2007, running for a total of 160 performances. Originally starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella (who won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Actor), both men repeated their acclaimed roles for the film version. The play was nominated for three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, the film was nominated for five Academy Awards in 2008.

Congratulations to the current touring company of Frost/Nixon for winning the Best Touring Company Award as of May 4, 2009.

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