Regional Reviews: Boston
Realizing that all of this comes out of Lees' imagination, there is enough known about each of the two men that informs the way he portrays them. Nixon's infamous paranoia, Kissinger's grasping for power and influence, and their mutual loathing are all part of the recipe for what Lees dishes out. Making it come alive on the New Repertory Theatre stage are two of Boston's acclaimed actors, Jeremiah Kissel (Nixon) and Joel Colodner (Kissinger), under the astute direction of Elaine Vaan Hogue. She wisely eschews employing stereotypical caricatures, relying instead on the suggestion of the posture and bearing of the historical figures. Kissel is the more loquacious of the two, while Colodner maintains a pragmatic, stoic demeanor, for the most part.
There are several opportunities for the actors to apply some shtick, as when they role-play Nixon meeting former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, conversations with JFK, and visiting with Chairman Mao in China. Those scenes are light and fun to watch, before Nixon sinks further into desperation and tries to figure a way out of his conundrum. Two of the most powerful men in the world put their heads together to consider provoking an international crisis that Nixon would be the one to resolve, either delaying or avoiding the looming denouement of his presidency. The paramount concern is to save his skin, but preserving his legacy, and Kissinger's by association, is his secondary aim.
The action takes place in a well-appointed room where a bar and a record player are prominent among historical artifacts. Afsoon Pajoufar's scenic design captures the ambience of the presidential residence, and lighting designer Aja Jackson helps to transform the room from the present to flashback moments. Music, recorded snippets of Nixon's voice, and the loud whir of helicopter blades at the conclusion are realistically provided by sound designer Elizabeth Cahill. Costume designer Zöe Sundra ensures that Kissinger's tuxedo and overcoat, and Nixon's suit reflect the styles of the period, and props manager Sam Martin adds to the authenticity.
So much of Nixon's Nixon resonates in the political climate of 2019, perhaps more so than when it was written twenty-five years ago. I look forward to the plays yet to be written about countless closed door happenings in #45's administration. It is unlikely that there will be one having to do with an impending resignation, but looming impeachment or incarceration are not out of the realm of possibility. Unfortunately, the abuse of power and the consideration of wag the dog scenarios didn't die out with Nixon, but he got his comeuppance. Will that part of history repeat itself?
Nixon's Nixon runs through October 6, 2019, at New Repertory Theatre, Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown MA. For tickets and information, call the box office at 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.
Written by Russell Lees, Directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue; Scenic Designer, Afsoon Pajoufar; Costume Designer, Zoe Sundra; Lighting Designer, Aja Jackson; Sound Designer, Elizabeth Cahill; Stage Manager, Heather Radovich; Props Manager, Sam Martin
Cast (in alphabetical order): Joel Colodner, Jeremiah Kissel