You could probably see them from space, David Henderson and John Honeycutt twinkle so brightly as the title characters in The Justice Theater Project’s stellar production of Peter Morgan’s 2006 historical docudrama Frost/Nixon, which will conclude its three-week run on Sept 14-16 and 21-23 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi in north Raleigh, NC.
Henderson is charming and charismatic as the shaggy-haired, casually dressed, amiable, and amusing British television talk-show host David Frost, whose forte is lobbing softball questions to instant celebrities enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. Honeycutt may be a star of a lower magnitude than Henderson in the Triangle acting firmament, but his nicely gravelly voiced nuanced performance as disgraced but immaculately dressed Republican President Richard M. Nixon is a gem. Indeed, with his forced geniality that never completely camouflages the ex-president’s paranoid personality and discomfort in television-interview situations, Honeycutt’s stiff and thoroughly buttoned-down Nixon proves to be the perfect foil for Henderson’s laid-back Frost.
A master of political debate, with his skills honed at nearby Duke University, Nixon is cursed with a perpetual five o’clock shadow and an upper lip that perspires profusely when the studio lights subject him to the sort of third degree that drives him to drink … more.
If Frost is a broadcaster with ants in his pants, Nixon is a politician with snakes in his boots — and he cannot drown them in oceans of alcohol. Moreover, Nixon’s large and intensely loyal staff cannot protect him from himself; and the late-night call that an obviously intoxicated Nixon places to Frost on the eve of their videotaped showdown over the Watergate scandal suggests that it is way past time for the former president to enter a 12-step program.
A number of crisp cameo performances heighten the backstage drama before, during, and after the 1977 Nixon/Frost interviews. Mike Raab and especially Ryan Brock contribute crusty characterizations as American investigative reporter Bob Zelnick and American author and Nixon expert Jim Reston, respectively. (Reston also doubles as the show’s Narrator.)
Also capturing the audience’s attention are the energetic efforts of Mary Floyd Page as Frost’s actress-girlfriend Charlotte Cushing, Jack Prather’s reptilian portrayal of long-time Nixon friend and ersatz agent Irving Paul “Swifty” Lazar, Mark Olexik’s urbane portrait of Frost’s British producer John Birt, and Tanner Lagasca’s low-key portrayal of Nixon’s ever-present manservant Manolo Sanchez.
Director Carnessa Ottelin also deserves an A-/B+ grade for her snappy staging, and Shannon Clark’s superlative set — with its banks of unblinking TV screens — suggests a television studio during the controlled chaos during a live broadcast, but also allows the characters to quickly step into other non-broadcasting locations when necessary.
Frost/Nixon is particularly timely as this fall’s presidential campaign heads toward a boiling point. If a bare-knuckled brawl ensures, replete with “dirty tricks” and “enemies lists,” pundits will make inevitable comparisons to the skullduggery of the Nixon years. There are plenty of lessons in Frost/Nixon for a 21st century electorate to absorb.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Spencer Powell: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5724; and Sept. 12th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 out of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/justice-theater-projects-plucky-production-of-frostnixon/Content?oid=3145620. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of Triangle Theater Review’s Sept. 7th preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/09/jtps-frostnixon-stars-david-henderson-as-david-frost-and-john-honeycutt-as-president-richard-nixon/.)
The Justice Theater Project presents FROST/NIXON at 8 p.m. Sept. 15, 2 p.m. Sept. 16, 8 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22, and 2 p.m. Sept. 23 in Clare Hall Fellowship Center at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students, seniors, active-duty military personnel), except $12 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919/264-7089, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Sept. 15th, there will be preshow panel discussion on “Politics, Conscience and the Media,” facilitated by Bryon Woods of The Independent Weekly and featuring Gail Phares, Jules-Odendahl-James, and George Corvin.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 2 p.m. Sept. 16th performance.
NOTE 3: On Sunday, Sept. 23rd, there will be post-show discussion with author and journalist James Reston, Jr. (http://www.restonbooks.com/).
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frost/Nixon_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=453356 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Film: http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/frostnixon/ (official web page) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frost/Nixon_(film) (Wikipedia), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0870111/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Morgan (Wikipedia).
David Frost: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Frost_(broadcaster) (Wikipedia).
Richard M. Nixon: http://nixonfoundation.org/ (Richard Nixon Foundation) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Nixon (Wikipedia).
The Watergate Scandal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal (Wikipedia).
The Nixon Interviews: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nixon_Interviews (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.