By Peter Morgan
Directed by Denny Grinar
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
The stage for The Alley Theater production of Frost/Nixon is sparse and empty except for one thing: televisions. Cleverly placed and always present, the use of television provides a reminder of the entertainment value and image associated with the infamous 1977 interview upon which this play is based. These televisions serve as reminders of how a nation watched a President attempt to redeem his fall from grace while an entertainment journalist strived for success in America.
From the top of the show, it is evident that the interview that we are about to see generated strong emotions and tensions. Nixon and Frost’s cohorts provide their sides of the story, giving its audience a chance to make up their minds. John C. Collins is passionate and opinionated as Jim Reston, a novelist who wrote about the Watergate scandal and is an adviser to Frost. Collins wears his emotions on his sleeve as an observer which spiral into a frenzy as the preparation for the initial taping occurs.
Chris Meier is a steadfast and loyal chief of staff to Nixon as Jack Brennan. Conservative and devoted, Meier’s performance relies on a stiff, unmoving belief that his President was indeed a good man ignoring the truth behind his wrongdoing. Marc McHone is fast-talking with dollars in his eyes as Swifty Lazar, complete with trademark thick-rimmed glasses. McHone’s character seals the divide between celebrity and politics with a single dollar amount. As John Birt, Francis Whitaker provides nervous energy in his role as the television producer. Whitaker brings out the polite frustration so associated with the Brits, which provides nice contrast to Herschel Zahnd’s Frost. Josh Rocchi brings wry humor to Bob Zelnick while Jennifer Riddle brings as much depth as she can to a one dimensional female love interest. This play is set in 1977, after all.
The title roles of President Nixon and Frost are played by J.P. Lebangood and Zahnd, respectfully. Without question, to play Nixon must be a challenge. Everyone has a Nixon impersonation with a scowl, shrugged shoulders, and surly demeanor. Lebangood’s Nixon tries to avoid the stereotypical impressions and strives to be a sympathetic portrayal of a man forced to resign from power that now faces burn out and old age. Lebangood’s performance is strongest within Nixon’s smaller, more idiosyncratic moments as he wipes his mouth with a napkin and shifts his glance from side to side.
Herschel Zahnd brings magnitude to his David Frost. Zahnd is charming and endlessly likable as Frost strives to establish himself as a legit presence in America. Zahnd’s performance slowly and subtly crescendos with each taping of the 4-part interview as Frost asks hard-hitting questions about the Watergate scandal, foreign policy, and Nixon’s tapes while barely breaking a sweat from Nixon’s deflections. Zahnd and Lebangood bounce the question and answers off of each other with ease as tensions build. Both actors bring their best in the play’s final interview scene. When Frost continuously prods behind one of the biggest scandals in American history, Nixon explodes with “when you’re the president, it isn’t illegal” – a moment that deserves every audible reaction it receives. Truly, it was like watching a boxing match.
To imagine a time when you only had your TV screens to catch the latest happenings with those who run this country seems foreign compared to our modern appetite for social media. And Frost/Nixon at the Alley Theater is a reminder that we need to keep watching to see what happens next.
May 17-June 2 @ 8:00pm
The Alley Theater
633 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!