By Larry Laneer
September 5, 2019
Lyric Theatre does theatergoers a big favor in presenting a rock-solid, engaging production of the docudrama Frost/Nixon now at the Plaza. This intimate theater is one of the two best spaces in town to see straight plays (the other is the art deco gem Freede Little in Civic Center Music Hall). One wonders why Lyric doesn’t do more non-musicals here.
The playwright Peter Morgan surely didn’t expect his speculative Frost/Nixon to have the currency it has today, when he published it in 2006. On the other hand, maybe he did. He says he interviewed most of the participants and is satisfied the play “is an accurate representation of what actually happened.” He may have sensed politicians and their enablers don’t change much over time.
The play concerns events around talk show host David Frost’s interview of former President Richard M. Nixon in 1977, three years after his historic resignation from office. Much of the drama involves Frost’s getting the interview—surely the most desired in modern journalism—and finding a way to finance a television production of it. (Morgan adapted the play for the 2008 film version, directed by Ron Howard.)
Lyric Theatre and director Michael Baron have given the play a fully realized staging. No skimping here. Baron has been talking up the use of onstage video screens for this production. It makes sense, as the play is about a television show. A raised video screen at the rear runs the full width of the stage, and projection designer Sam Kusnetz employs it in full. The screen can show one image or be divided into several. My eyes were drawn to it mostly in the scenes of the actual television interview. Unlike the original broadcast, however, which cut back and forth between Frost and Nixon, both are seen all the time in this production. We see Nixon taking a handkerchief to his famously perspiring upper lip during questions, something the former President’s advisers assured would not be shown on the broadcast, as stipulated in their contract with Frost.
The video screen is most effective when it plays the role of a television set or is a background. Baron has several scenes appear on video that would not have been seen on television (private meetings, Frost in bed taking a middle-of-the-night phone call from Nixon’s agent). It isn’t clear why Baron has scenes written to be performed onstage play on the video.
But all this technology wouldn’t be much without strong performances, and Baron has populated this production with a top-notch cast. Matthew Alvin Brown plays Frost, and D. Lance Marsh is Nixon. In a late scene, Nixon makes a drunken, late night phone call to Frost. Marsh’s Nixon rambles at length, baring his insecurities, self-doubt, and self-defense. Brown’s Frost has practically no lines in the scene, and both fine actors play the moment to the hilt. They give remarkable performances.
But the play covers much more than just Frost and Nixon. David H. Dobson, Jonathan Beck Reed, and Gregory DeCandia play Frost’s team of advisors. Andi Dema is Nixon’s unwavering, unquestioning, supportive chief of staff. Ronn Burton is terrific as Swifty Lazar, Nixon’s agent who drives a hard bargain with Frost.
Dawn Drake’s scenic design captures in detail 1970s decor and remains flexible for the many scene changes that jump time and place. A lot of schlepping props on and off takes place, but Baron and Drake keep the show running smoothly for one hour, 45 minutes, without intermission. Jeffrey Meek’s period costumes are spot on. Dig those plaid, polyester trousers.
You can draw your own conclusions about similarities between the Nixon and Trump administrations. Nixon’s paranoia and hatred of the news media parallel Trump’s. We know from investigations of the Nixon administration in the 1970s and from the Mueller report on Trump, both obstructed justice. Nixon resigned from office for it. We will see what fate Washington politicians, or more importantly, the American people, deliver to Trump.
|Frost/Nixon by Peter Morgan
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays, 2:00 p.m. and
8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through September 22
1725 N.W. 16th St.
Tickets start at $25