REVIEW: Frost/Nixon (TimeLine Theatre)

 

The Man Behind the Monster

 

 Frost (Andrew Carter) interviews Nixon (Terry Hamilton)

   
TimeLine Theatre presents
  
Frost/Nixon
  
Written by Peter Morgan
Directed by
Louis Contey
at
TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington (map)
through October 10  |  tickets: $18-$38  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

It’s not a stretch to cast Richard Nixon as a monster. He was a cantankerous soul who rabble-roused around an unpopular war and abused the presidency to allegedly commit felonious acts. His legacy is a sobering stain on the political landscape that serves as a reminder for others to not blindly trust those we choose to lead.

FrostNixon_101 The real challenge of this work is portraying Nixon as a human being, a man of both wants and desires as well as fears and frustrations. To put it another way, the challenge is to bring out Nixon’s humanity while simultaneously highlighting his treachery.

TimeLine Theatre’s production of Frost/Nixon brilliantly toes this line.

The play details the famous 1977 interview with the disgraced president. Those producing the interview meant for it to be the trial that Nixon never got, thanks to a full pardon by Gerald Ford. Unfortunately, spearheading the questioning was a character with questionable skills—David Frost (Andrew Carter). Frost was an international playboy who hosted successful talk shows in the U.K. and Australia. At one point, he had an unsuccessful run in America. This failure forever nagged him, and so he devised a plan to restore his good name. That plan was to nab the biggest interview of the decade.

Meanwhile, Nixon (Terry Hamilton) was self-sequestered in his California mansion. He was defeated. He had achieved the highest position of public office only to fall so very far. However, word of Frost’s desire to conduct an interview piqued his interest. For one, the financial agreement on the table to secure the interview would make Nixon a very rich man. But moreover, doing a softball interview with a British talk show host could help him restore his good name.

Of course, as history reveals, Nixon agreed to multiple sit-down interviews with Frost. And although the majority of tape captured during these sessions was merely a lesson in Nixon’s uncanny ability to evade tough questioning, it eventually led to a rare and honest glimpse into the mind of a megalomaniac.

This play is nothing without a good Nixon, and Hamilton’s portrayal of the man is executed with great finesse. There is obviously a conscious balance between depicting Nixon as a human and a villain with the ultimate goal to strike at the heart of truth. One way this is accomplished is by subtlety yet powerfully revealing to us Nixon’s insecurities. For example, there is a scene in which Nixon questions whether a pair of laceless Italian shoes is too effeminate for him to wear. In this scene, Hamilton broadcasts Nixon’s childlike need for reassurance, knocking the man down to mortal proportions. It is also fortunate that Hamilton never verges on caricature, opting to veer away from political cartoon. Rather, he aims for documentary.

 

FrostNixon_056 FrostNixon_226
FrostNixon_147 FrostNixon_181

Director Louis Contey is a real talent. His use of blocking to create dramatic tension between Frost and Nixon is just another pleasurable subtlety of this production. Specifically, his work is highlighted in a scene in which an inebriated Nixon makes a late-night phone call to Frost. Although the two speak from separate locations, Contey puts them in the same space. There they move around each other and glare at one another in a battle of intimidation.

The set design by Keith Pitts also enhances the quality of the production. Large projections, created by Mike Tutaj, are cleverly used to alter the setting, from Nixon’s California home to a trans-Atlantic flight. Televisions flank both sides of the stage where closed-circuit cameras broadcast the historic interview. This gives us, the theater-going audience, a vision of how the medium of television shaped and influenced the interview.

TimeLine Theatre’s Frost/Nixon digs deep into the psyche of one of our most notorious presidents. Yes, Nixon may not have been an honest man, nor was he necessarily a decent or good man. But he was a man. And although this does not forgive his transgressions, it helps us better understand his weaknesses.

Ultimately, TimeLine has created a triumph of a production. Buy your tickets now while seats remain.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
 

FrostNixon_027

 

Extra Credit:

     

Production Personnel

 

        Ensemble

 

 

** Member Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers
* TimeLine Company Member
+ TimeLine Associate Artist

 

Those designers and scenic artists identified by U.S.A. are members of United Scenic Artists, IATSE Local 829, AFL-CIO.

 

 

Production Personnel list courtesy of TimeLine website.

   
  

5 Responses

  1. Do we really have to be subjected to another dose of Don Bender in Chicago theatre? that guy plays the same character in every show. How about a little acting, dude?

    • Just how much of my work have you seen, Kaiser?

    • [Editor: because of the language and unproductive nature of this comment, it has been deleted.]

    • My Dear Young Man:

      (Pardon the presumption, but I surmise your youth by the usage of the term ‘dude’ in your posting of 24 November, 2010.)

      I noticed your remarks while referring to the theatrical review for TimeLine’s Frost/Nixon — a splendid production, even surpassing the Broadway show in some respects.

      But I digress.

      You remarked that actor Don Bender “plays the same character in every show.”

      As if that were a bad thing.

      Having had the honor of working onstage with Mr. Bender, as well as seeing various productions of his over the years, I can only say that he does indeed play the same character: a character who learns his lines; a character who learns his actions; a character who is a dependable scene partner; a character who is a gentleman backstage (a sadly rare occurence in this age of vulgarity); and a character who is otherwise a true professional and a joy to work with.
      I
      In short, a character with a lot of character. And a welcome presence in the theatrical profession.

      I hope that you will one day share my opinion of this fine actor.

      Sincerely,
      B. Bentley
      bentleyandassociatesltd@hotmail.com

  2. […] Frost/Nixon  Timeline Theatre (Aug 2010) Written by Peter Morgan Directed by Louis Contey our review […]

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