Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Tim's reviews of Under the Skin and Nora
While Nixon "retired" to California in disgrace, TV host David Frost was glued to his television in England, just like the rest of the world. Getting Nixon to talk would be a major coup, and Frost was willing to pay big bucks to do it. Thus began what would be a series of twelve interviews between the two, which ended up being more like an enthralling chess match.
Frost/Nixon is the play by Peter Morgan that resulted from this cat and mouse game, and what a play it is. The Players Club of Swarthmore's version, directed by Bridget Dougherty, is well acted, with strong leads and a tight ensemble who care about doing the piece right.
Leading the pack as Nixon is Jeff Ragan, who must have studied hours of tape to get the ex-President's mannerisms down pat. Much of this play's success rides on his coattails, and he doesn't let us down. When his face is up on the enlarged TV screen, it's easy to forget that we're watching an actor, as we witness Nixon's ultimate downfall.
Eric Jarrell is also strong as Frost; this character has a lot of layers, as he changes from self-assured at the beginning to questioning himself during the interviews. The audience can see Jarrell's demeanor alter from the first session's relaxed attitude to the hardcore "go in for the kill" approach that would ultimately trap Nixon.
Frost/Nixon has a unique way of telling the story, as its two narrators are also important characters. Thomas-Robert Irvin (Jim Reston) and Charles Hoffmann (Jack Brennan) portray two ends of the spectrum: Reston needs to take Nixon down at any cost, in the interviews; and Brennan wants to save the man to whom he is so loyal. Irvin and Hoffmann really do justice to their polar-opposite characters.
Leigh Jacobs is a riot as Swifty Lazar, Nixon's agent who has only cash on the brain. In a play that really doesn't have a lot for women to do, Ashley James is effective as Frost's girlfriend Caroline Cushing. Jim Broyles and Anthony SanFilippo round out the Frost posse as John Birt and Bob Zelnick, respectively. Broyles, SanFilippo, Irvin, and Jarrell play off each other tremendously well, showing the audience that it was, for the most part, no picnic among the characters. But their common goal was the same.
The interviews themselves are where Frost/Nixon really shines. The larger-than-life TV screen is so effective because it shows the exact points during Frost's questioning when Nixon knows he's done. Ragan and Jarrell together are mesmerizing to watch, and on a super-cold night, I was glad to be inside at the Players Club of Swarthmore "witnessing history."
Frost/Nixon runs through February 28, 2015, at the Players Club of Swarthmore, 614 Fairview Road, Swarthmore. Tickets are $8-$15; visit www.pcstheater.org for information on how to purchase.
The cast includes Jim Broyles, Lizzy Dalton-Negron, Randino Del Rosario, Charles Hoffmann, Thomas-Robert Irvin, Lauri Jacobs, Leigh Jacobs, Ashley James, Eric Jarrell, Patrick Martin, Jeff Ragan, and Anthony SanFilippo.