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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Frost/Nixon

In 1977, television journalist David Frost conducted a lengthy interview with former President Nixon, ultimately resulting in Nixon's first public admission of guilt concerning the Watergate break-ins. Frost/Nixon is the play British screenwriter Peter Morgan wrote about the event. Starring Michael Sheen and Frank Langella, as Frost/Nixon respectively, and directed by Michael Grandage, the well-received production played the Donmar Warehouse and the West End before crossing the pond to debut on Broadway in 2007. A film version directed by Ron Howard opens this month, and the national tour which began in September continues to cross the U.S.

Frost/Nixon begins with the preparations for the interviews—what it took for Frost and his crew to put the whole thing together, which was quite a coup at the time. Providing the audience with a close examination of the personalities of Frost (Alan Cox) and Nixon (Stacey Keach), both in front of and behind the cameras, creates an anticipation for the interview that is tension filled—even already knowing how things turn out. Though some parts of the play—including a key scene—are "bits of fiction" (10-12%, according to David Frost), and the actors do not attempt to mimic the famous duo, the writing, direction and performances draw us in completely.

Richard Nixon was a very complicated man and Stacey Keach shows us several levels of his personality, with the heavy presence properly understated. An intensity crosses the footlights like an electric current. It's tough, maybe impossible, to beat Frank Langella's portrayal, but this is a very fine performance. Alan Cox has a less dramatic assignment, as David Frost is presented as a showbizzy playboy who eventually shows his chops as a serious interviewer. Cox tries to show this through loose-limbed, fidgety actions that don't seem to match Frost's on-air presence.

It's surprising to find that this isn't a two-hander—there is a supporting cast of eleven actors who portray numerous roles, from cameramen to famous personalities (including Evonne Goolagong and Mike Wallace), but most notably, three key personalities involved in the interviews: Nixon biographer and expert on abuse of power, Jim Reston (Brian Sgambati), who acts as narrator; the show's executive producer, Robert Zelnick (Bob Ari); and Marine Lt. Colonel and Nixon loyalist Jack Brennan (Ted Koch)—all of whom do a great job.

Michael Grandage's direction, with quick-changes of scenery and video projections, expands the production from a dry "interview on stage" to a fast-paced, compelling dramatic story, preventing the two hours from being a long sit.

Frost/Nixon, through December 7 at the Benedum Center. More information available at pgharts.org. For the tour schedule, visit www.frostnixonontour.com.


-- Ann Miner

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