Wicked Local Braintree
May 01, 2013
‘Frost/Nixon’ captures verbal duel
When Peter Morgan’s play “Frost/Nixon,” inspired by the interviews Richard Nixon gave British talk show host David Frost in 1977 three years after he left the White House in disgrace, premiered in 2006, a reviewer described it as a story about the confrontation of a man who understood politics but not television and a man who understood television but not politics.
This was unfair to both the well-educated Frost as well as Nixon, who used TV brilliantly, if mawkishly, in his famous 1952 “Checkers” speech to keep Dwight Eisenhower from finding a new running mate, and thanks to fine performances by Christopher Crossen-Sills and Jonathan Young in the challenging title roles, Curtain Call Theatre’s production of “Frost/Nixon” captures the essence of the verbal duel still remembered for Nixon’s revealing claim, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
Frank Langella won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Nixon, described by biographer Don Fulsom as “America’s most troubled president,” and gave an Oscar-nominated performance opposite his Broadway costar Michael Sheen in director Ron Howard’s 2008 film version adapted for the screen by the playwright.
In his program note, director William Gardiner, making an impressive Curtain Call debut, shrewdly summarizes “Frost/Nixon” as “the story of two men struggling to find redemption in order to return to the limelight.”
Crossen-Sills emphasizes Frost’s delight in his celebrity status, especially when his face lights up after an attractive woman (Luisa Badaracco) he has met on an airplane recognizes him, but makes believable how the former satirical star of “That Was The Week That Was” hungers to be taken seriously as a journalist and in the end wins Nixon’s acknowledgement of having been “a worthy opponent.”
Young wisely makes no attempt to imitate Nixon’s voice but captures his awkward body language and subtly conveys how difficult it is for the politician fellow Republican Barry Goldwater called “the most dishonest man I ever met” to try to be affable, which makes it all the more effective and startling when the mask slips and Nixon loses his temper.
Members of the supporting cast, some of whom play more than one role, deserve praise for how adroitly they make transitions from narrating the action to participating in it. Although Mike Whalen as James Reston Jr., a harsh Nixon critic who helped Frost prepare for the interviews, at times seems more petulant than passionate, Sean Keegan is solid as Nixon’s devoted aide Jack Brennan, as are Mark Logue and Ed Krasnow as Frost’s savvy and blunt colleagues Jack Birt and Bob Zelnick.
Click here to link to the review online