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September 6, 2011 > Theatre Review: Frost/Nixon - the great face-off

Theatre Review: Frost/Nixon - the great face-off

By Janet Grant

The year was 1977. Two very public figures; one with a career in decline and one living in self-imposed seclusion, came together in a moment of time and made television history. David Frost, a once popular British talk show host turned lowbrow laughing stock, risks everything to resurrect his career by pulling the ultimate coup: landing a series of interviews with Richard Nixon, the former American president who resigned in total disgrace over the effects of the Watergate scandal. Frost wants to extract an apology from the former president and Nixon is equally bent on redeeming himself in his nation's eyes. The result was the interview that sealed a president's legacy.

In Douglas Morrisson Theatre's Bay Area debut of "Frost /Nixon" by Peter Morgan, Director, Marilyn Langbehn masterfully presents a well-cast prize fight of almost epic proportions. The small but talented ensemble cast effectively portrayed a well-paced and intriguing look back at the events leading to this historical encounter.

A highly fictional account of the interviews, "Frost/Nixon" loosely scans time and various locals throughout the play and is, for the most part, told through the characters of David Frost, played by Craig Souza, Richard Nixon, played by John Hale, Frost Researcher Jim Reston, played by Renny Madlena, and Nixon Chief of Staff, Jack Brennan played by Don R. Williams.

Mr. Madlena narrates a large portion of the play and portrays Reston as a passionate and outspoken Nixon critic just ready to explode like a powder keg. Mr. Williams is quite believable in his role as a ram-rod straight military officer and loyal counsel to the president.

In the title roles, both Craig Souza as Frost, and John Hale as Nixon, are instantly believable in the embodiments of their respective characters. Mr. Souza plays Frost in a charming and suave manner while Mr. Hale's trademark gestures and jowls quickly conjure up the presidential caricature so recognizable even after all these years.

Surprisingly "Frost/Nixon" is not really a political play but a tale of two men full of contradictions and desperately seeking approval - Frost, the cool sophisticate driven by ambition and insecurity, and Nixon, a president who made great strides in foreign relations, and desegregation but couldn't conduct small talk. While Mr. Souza became the likeable and charming host, Mr. Hale emphasized the loneliness of a character who had to explain his jokes even to his intimates.

Douglas Morrisson Theatre's production of "Frost/Nixon" was a superbly acted slice of pathos and nostalgia. In the climactic last scene when Frost tells the cornered Nixon, "Own your actions out loud, or you're going to be haunted for the rest of your life." From the audience, you can almost feel a hush of anticipation. We know from history what Nixon will say, yet we still wonder if he'll actually confess.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre's superb treatment of "Frost/Nixon" is definitely worth seeing. Even after 30 years, Nixon's conduct and ultimate disgrace echoes in the present. Whether it is Watergate or waterboarding, the limits of presidential power and abuse can make for fascinating political theater and perhaps a moral for our own time.


Nixon-Frost
Friday, Sept 2 - Sunday, Sept 25
8 p.m. (Sunday: 2 p.m.)
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22331 N. 3rd Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777
www.dmtonline.org.

Box Office is open Tuesday - Friday from 12:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Adults: $24; Seniors: $22; Students/juniors: $15

Performance dates:
Thursday, Sept 15, 22
Friday, Sept 2, 9, 16, 23,
Saturday, Sept 3, 10, 17, 24
Sunday, Sept 4, 11, 19, 25

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