Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon has proven itself on Broadway and film, but I was wary. How does an actor play someone as iconic and oft-parodied as Richard Nixon without slipping into caricature?
Dan Olmstead shows us how in New City Stage’s terrific production, with a sincere, unaffected performance that captures Nixon’s distinctive speech patterns and posture without exaggeration. It all begins with his 1974 resignation, watched by 400 million, but moves past public personas to a surprisingly intimate story.
The other titular character, talk-show host David Frost, has less cultural baggage but is no less challenging. Russ Widdall plays the womanizing lightweight, who sees interviewing Nixon as more of an opportunity for his own career than for journalism, with appropriate unctuousness, but grows immensely when pushed to give Nixon the trial he avoided with Gerald Ford’s unconditional pardon. When the two face off, it’s a battle between two forceful personalities: Will Nixon repair his image, or will Frost extract the confession that much of the nation craves?
Though this feels like a two-man play, director Aaron Cromie surrounds his leads with capable performers, and keeps the action popping on Cory Palmer’s kitschy set. At nearly two hours without intermission, Frost/Nixon still doesn’t feel long. It defies expectations of a historical drama by gripping us with an exciting story — just one that actually happened.
Through Jan. 5, $25-$35, Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom St., 215-563-7500, newcitystage.org.
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