Richard Nixon has never looked so good.
Once seen as a disgraced despot who — despite his earlier protestation that “I am not a crook!” — finally admitted he was in on the Watergate conspiracy to steal secrets from the Democratic Party, Nixon is now remembered more as the architect of a forward-thinking foreign policy that opened relations with China, thus forcing the demise of the Soviet bloc.
As a result, Peter Morgan’s historical play Frost/Nixon seems more quaint than dramatic, a nostalgic look at what it was like to have a president bound in any way by standards of statesmanship and decency. Ah, the old days.
For its final show of the season, Very Little Theatre opened a production of Frost/Nixon on Friday, Aug. 10, two days after the 44th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation from office.
Morgan constructed his play around a series of videotaped interviews that David Frost did with Nixon in 1977. Frost, a British talk-show host, was widely considered by more-experienced journalists to be a lightweight, and the thrust of the play is how he gradually pushes Nixon toward confronting and admitting the truth.
What this means, of course, is that Frost/Nixon can be slow and talky, and the VLT production, directed by Darryl Marzyck, certainly is. The first act drags, but stay in your seats: The whole play is utterly redeemed by a searing scene in Act II involving a phone call between Frost and a very drunken Nixon to set up the final interview.
Damon Noyes gives us a serviceable Frost, half Brit dandy and half brooding philosopher, but Mike Hawkins falls short of delivering Nixon’s unmistakable darkness. His Nixon is, frankly, too sweet.
Blake Beardsley does an excellent job as a caustic James “Sonny” Reston, one of a pair of newspapermen whom Frost hired as investigators and whose work led to that final confession.
But I wonder whether anyone younger than 60 cares enough anymore about Watergate. Who remembers people like Swifty Lazar and Mike Wallace? They’re both played excellently here by John White.
But do figures like Lazar and Wallace matter anymore in the era of “fake news”?
Frost/Nixon continues at Very Little Theatre through Aug. 25. Info at TheVLT.com.