Frost / Nixon
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by John DiDonna, Kevin G. Becker, Seth Kubersky
Starring Stephan Jones and Time Williams
Empty Spaces Theatre Company
Presenting at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre
David Frost – playboy, lightweight TV talk show host, mostly good with actresses. Richard Nixon – hardened trial lawyer, international diplomat, disgraced president. Who would you bet on to win a TV debate? After Nixon (Jones) resigns, he retreats to California to lick his wounds, write his memoirs, and figure out “What next?” Frost’s (Williams) ratings are slipping in Australia and he needs a career reviving score. His people did lunch with Nixon’s people and they both struck a deal with the devil: a 6 hour televised interview, hitting on all the hot buttons – Vietnam, International politics, and most critically – the Watergate Break-In. In Nixon’s camp is marine-tough Chief of Staff Jack Brennan (John Maugham) and Hollywood dealmaker Swift Lazar (Garry Norris). Across the moat we find rabid Nixon hater James Reston (John Bateman,) Washington insider Bob Zelnick (Kevin Sigman) and skeptical producer John Birt (Brett Carson). Nixon opens strong; he’s been down this path and turns Frost’s hard hitting questions in to opportunities to ramble on about mom and apple pie. In basketball, he’d be eating the clock. Finally the opposing team’s research pays off, and there’s a surprise ending to top all surprise endings.
Despite the overt politics of Frost / Nixon, the story isn’t about right vs. wrong but humanities intrinsic need to reshape the past for our own ends. Jones as Nixon more than believable, his shuffling delivery, problems with eye contact and perspiration make him look guilty of stuff he hadn’t even done. Williams bounces off the walls, he’s suave and bit vacuous but has the persistence and cheer to get through the dark moments without losing faith in himself. Mr. Bateman’s starts out as narration but then becomes the team’s bull dog, doing the grunt work we now assign to Google and hitting pay dirt at the most dramatic moment possible. Frost even has a love interest, she the historical Caroline Cushing (Chelsey Panisch). Her role seems primarily to show Frost’s womanizing, but she lives in Monaco prompting Nixon to advise: “You need to marry that woman. They don’t pay taxes in Monaco.”
Turning history into effective gripping drama is rare; often facts get in the way of relations and a pedantic lecture. “Frost / Nixon” avoids that trap, all of these folks are cut from real cloth, make real mistakes and add real humor to an unfunny situation. If you go in dreading a lecture, you’re safe; this is sprightly reenactment of history complete with a dream sequence with Nixon explaining himself to Frost over drinks. Most importantly, this is no hatchet job, while Nixon was reviled his crimes were less than those before and after him, and he’s given a fair chance to argue his case without the hectoring interruptions todays TV relies on. This history will NOT put you to sleep.
For more information on Empty Spaces Theater Company, visit http://www.emptyspacestheatre.org