August 17, 2007
My wife and I caught Frost/Nixon last night on Broadway. We both agreed that it was one of the best experiences we've ever had at the theater.
It was written by Peter Morgan who also wrote the screenplay for The Queen and The Last King of Scotland (you could say Peter's on a roll). Like The Queen (and I'm assuming The Last King -- haven't seen it yet), Frost/Nixon makes you feel like a fly on a wall of history -- not for one moment did I feel like, "Oh, he's making shit up." This is in part due to the fact that he mixed verbatim moments of historical, videotaped dialog with impeccable research (undoubtedly he was helped a great deal by James Reston, Jr., whose book about his role in the Frost/Nixon interviews has just been published, 30 years after it was written). For example, check out the following outtakes of Nixon, right before his resignation speech. Morgan used most of it to open the play and it perfectly set up the "character" of Richard Nixon:
What's truly great about the play is the tension Morgan creates. (Spoiler alert!) You would think that a play about a British guy interviewing a disgraced ex-president could be a potential snooze-fest but Morgan keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time -- it also doesn't hurt that the two leads, Michael Sheen as Frost (he played Blair in The Queen) and Frank Langella as Nixon, are absolutely brilliant (Langella won a Tony for his performance). The tension in the play derives mostly from the fact that Frost was a showman, not a journalist, and Nixon was a master of tooting his own horn. Frost's team was worried that they were throwing away the one chance to get Nixon to come clean on his role in Watergate and that the series of interviews would end up becoming Nixon's salvation. You can watch the excerpts from the actual interviews below to see why Frost's team thought they were doomed. Nixon meanders and meanders, not allowing Frost to get a word in edgewise, thus completely controlling the interview:
Trust me: the play is a million times more compelling than the 10 minutes you just watched.
There are only four more performances of this incredible play. If you are in the New York area, try to score some tickets for this weekend. If you miss it, you can catch the forthcoming movie version, directed by Opie.