Playwright: Peter Morgan
At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: $35-$40. Runs through: May 20
"I shall be your fiercest adversary. The limelight can shine upon only one of us," proclaims the invisible foe on the eve of the decisive battle, his voice emerging from the darkness as the young warrior who will face him on the morrow listens in stunned trepidation.
This isn't Macbeth at Dunsinane or Richard III on Bosworth Field, however, nor will the duel commencing at dawn be swordplay to the death. No, this is 1977 and the location is a posh California beachfront residence where a television crew is preparing to tape what everyone hopes will be earth-shaking wordplay by popular British satirist/talk-show host David Frost and disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Whether it be Aeschylus, Shakespeare or Aaron Sorkin, success rewards playwrights providing assurance that the powerful and privileged are as imperfectly human as their less celebrated supporterswisdom granting absolution to authors inclined to liberties regarding historical accuracy. To be sure, by 2006, when Peter Morgan framed his drama-of-confrontation in metaphorical jargon associated with classical tragedy and high-stakes athletic events ( boxing, bullfighting, etc. ), the crimes lending our villain his notoriety had lost their immediacy.
So while those of an age to have firsthand memoriesor hindsight opinionsof the characters depicted in Morgan's docudrama can revel in nostalgic recognition thereof ( "Roger Mudd!" declared one playgoer upon hearing the voiceover as we enter ), the cojoining of government and show business portrayed in this Redtwist production requires only minimal acquaintance with the issues referenced therein to be rendered comprehensible. Indeed, the absence of fact-based distractions facilitates the spectator-sport excitement generated by two rags-to-riches champions contending for glory beyond material gainfor the washed-up statesman, exoneration and a comfortable legacy, and for the ambitious upstart, the respect granted his snobbish colleagues.
Under the direction of Scott Weinstein, a cast led by Jason Richards as the sybaritic Frost and Brian Parry ( whose visual and aural approximation of his persona is nothing short of uncanny ) as the calculating Nixon deliver exemplary ensemble acting, as well as likewise uncaricatured physical replications of their real-life counterparts, even to individual regional accents. Despite a running time of 105 intermissionless minutes and our knowing the outcome from the start, the electricity in the snug storefront room engenders suspenseholding our attention right up to an epilogue being written to this day.