How can a theatrical re-creation of a television interview be gripping?
To begin with, this interview is no average interview. “Frost/Nixon” is based on the 1977 David Frost sessions with Richard Nixon, in which Nixon blustered, prevaricated, self-justified and, eventually, apologized (in his own way) for Watergate.
Playwright Peter Morgan made this concept work beyond all expectations, as evidenced by the three Tony nominations (and one win) this play reaped on Broadway in 2007.
And when it was adapted for a Ron Howard-directed movie in 2008, it garnered five Oscar nominations.
Now, the Spokane Civic Theatre is tackling this play with Wes Deitrick as Nixon and Kelly Hauenstein as Frost. It will be performed in the Civic’s intimate downstairs Studio Theatre.
It took a British playwright to bring this American political drama to the stage. Morgan was best known as the writer of British TV dramas and the Oscar-nominated “The Queen” with Helen Mirren.
“Frost/Nixon” premiered in London in 2006 and was a surprise hit. The British newspaper the Independent called it “sharp, witty and haunting.”
It rolled up a long list of Olivier Award nominations (the London equivalent to the Tonys), including Best New Play and Best Actor for Frank Langella and Michael Sheen as, respectively, Nixon and Frost.
The production transferred across the pond to Broadway in 2007, also with Langella and Sheen. Critics raved, especially when it came to Langella’s eerily accurate portrayal of Nixon, which Ben Brantley of the New York Times called a “truly titanic performance.”
As for the play itself, Brantley said it had “the momentum of a ticking-bomb thriller and the zing of a boulevard comedy.”
“Structured as a prize fight between two starkly ambitious men in professional crisis, ‘Frost/Nixon’ makes it clear that the competitor who controls the camera reaps the spoils,” he wrote.
Along with Deitrick and Hauenstein, the Interplayers cast also includes Jon Jordan, Brian Cheney, Robert Crabb, Terry Sticka, Gary Pierce, Amy Nathan, Jacob Moore, Neesha Schrom and Aki Peterson. Susan Hardie directs.
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