Frost/Nixon Features Passionate Performances

By Toni Wilson Wood
Photos by Matthew R. Kerns

Thomas Carlisle as Nixon

WaterlooFrost/Nixon, performed by Waterloo Community Playhouse, is an epic juggernaut that covers three years, various locations, and the verbal boxing match between David Frost, the British talk show host who was better known for his handling of models, not presidents, and President Richard Nixon, who was seeking a way to redeem himself without apologizing for something he felt was not something to apologize for.

Sound boring? You would be wrong. While this material could be considered dry, Peter Morgan, author of Frost/Nixon, took a huge amount of information and condensed it into something digestible. He created a text that clocks in at 2 hours (sans intermission) that feels much shorter than it actually is. There isn’t anything extraneous here. Every word, every actor has his place.

The cast of Frost/Nixon is a truly tight ensemble—there was not a weak link in the group. Thomas Carlisle played Richard Nixon as a sometimes charming, often self-deprecating politician who, underneath the confident exterior, had an exhaustion about him that comes from living with a burden like Watergate. While Carlisle doesn’t look like Nixon, the physicality and vocal work he brings to the role make you believe he is Nixon, flaws and all. Mike Anderson as David Frost was all slick-surface, flirting with the ladies, yet, similar to Carlisle’s portrayal of Nixon, had a depth to him. No one was taking him seriously—especially the US Press. Frost needed this interview as much as Nixon needed the money and the opportunity to clear his name. Throughout the show, Anderson portrays Frost as a man with this extra depth—vulnerable, and doubting his choice to do the interviews.

The rest of the Frost camp consisted mostly of researchers and a beautiful socialite, Caroline Cushing. Gary Baumgartner as Jim Reston, an American teacher and writer, was convincing and passionate as Frost’s researcher who ultimately figures out exactly how to take Nixon down. He is the voice for the angry American liberals who wanted an apology from Nixon, whatever the cost. Joel Zummak played John Birt, the producer of the Nixon Interviews, and Chris Hansen was Bob Zelnick, a new producer at ABC. Both were over-the-top hard on Frost as he made mistakes in the early interviews. Andrea Morris played Caroline as a strong woman who genuinely cared about Frost and wanted him to succeed.

Joel Zummak as John Birt; Gary Baumgartner
as Jim Reston; Chris Hansen as Bob Zelnick

The Nixon camp consisted of two people: Swifty Lazar, Nixon’s publicist, and Jack Brennan, Nixon’s chief of staff. Scott Schuster played Swifty as a money grubber with panache. Anthony Covington played Brennan with great care and passion; he was the only person who actually looked out for Nixon’s interests in this whole thing. Brennan was the only one who stood by Nixon through the entire show—protecting the President when Frost makes the final blow.

When I see pictures of myself and my family from the 1970s, what I love about those pictures is the light. It is golden, hazy, and has an air of nostalgia about it. Whenever I see that type of light, I always think of the 1970s. William Barbour’s lighting design for Frost/Nixon captured this feeling perfectly.

The rest of the scenic design, by Matthew R. Kerns, perfectly blends with the play itself—two overstuffed tan chairs at opposite ends of a vaguely boxing ring-esque area between the two sections of seating. There’s televisions piled at one end, tuned to static. The other end has just two televisions, one of which had an American flag waving, and later, different editorial cartoons at various points in the play. Beneath these televisions, a reel-to-reel machine is recording the entire show. The authenticity of both the scenic and lighting design are wonderful.

Frost/Nixon is well worth seeing—the black box theatre in the Walker Building brings the action of the play practically in your lap. Nothing is better than seeing a tightly acted, directed (also by Kerns), and designed play up close—and Frost/Nixon fits the bill. Frost/Nixon runs for two more performances only – Thursday and Friday January 29 and 30, at 7:00 p.m. each night. Click here for tickets and more information.

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