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.

 

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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: ★★★★
  
 

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TimeLine Theatre announces 2010-11 season

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“Our 14th season builds on the success and excitement of TimeLine’s past year,” says TimeLine Artistic Director PJ Powers. “As we did with The History Boys and The Farnsworth Invention, we’ll feature the local premiere of a widely renowned play. We’ll present the first production of a brand-new script that we commissioned. And we will dig into Chicago’s past for a revival of one of our town’s most fun and beloved tales. Plus we will soon be announcing a fourth production. It’s a big, ambitious season that will tell the stories of big, ambitious people, and we can’t wait to get started.”

 

The 2010-11 TimeLine Theatre Season

 

 

Frost/Nixon
by Peter Moran
directed by Louis Contey
Chicago Premiere
August 21 – October 10, 2010
 
Frost/Nixon
takes audiences inside the real-life 1977 television interviews between journalist David Frost and former president Richard Nixon. It has been three years since Nixon resigned from office in disgrace. The Watergate scandal is still on the minds of many, but the former commander-in-chief has yet to break his silence about his role in those events. Now Nixon has agreed to be interviewed by the up-and-coming British broadcaster David Frost. Behind-the-scenes it’s a battle of egos for the upper hand in controlling history, but as the cameras roll, the world is riveted by a remarkably honest exchange between one man who has lost everything and another with everything to gain.

 

Mastering the Art
by William Brown and Doug Frew
directed by
William Brown
World Premiere
October 30 – December 19, 2010
   
  Commissioned by TimeLine Theatre Company in 2008 and developed here in 2010, Mastering The Art is a look at the lives of Julia and Paul Child as they meet, fall in love and embark on a transatlantic journey of discovery together. Visiting pivotal moments in their lives — from the table in France where Julia fell in love with food, wine and Paul, to the table in their home where Julia recreated everything she learned in cooking class, to an interrogation room where Paul was grilled by U.S. agents about alleged Communist contacts — this play unfolds the true story of a larger-than-life culinary icon as she and her husband struggle to find themselves as Americans abroad. Mastering the Art marks the first production commissioned by TimeLine to be produced on the company’s stage. The development of Mastering the Art has been partially supported by The Dramatists Guild Fund.

 

Play #3 – TBA (Jan 22 – March 20, 2011)

 

The Front Page
by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur
directed by Nick Bowling
April 16 – June 12, 2011
   
  The Front Page is a 1920’s classic Chicago comedy often considered responsible for defining the newspaper business. Drawn from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s careers as journalists in Chicago, the play takes you inside the press room at Chicago’s Criminal Courts Building as a group of reporters cover a controversial execution and uncover the rampant corruption, scandal and hi-jinx associated with Chicago politics and journalism. TimeLine is thrilled to revive a quintessential Chicago classic and to highlight for audiences the wealth of local history embedded in this script.

Casting for all productions in TimeLine’s 2010-11 season is still to be determined.

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