Review: Frost/Nixon

I would really like to write one of my standard scathing reviews of this play, but I am very tired, and, horribly, I have agreed to meet several old friends, all of whom are evidently far round the bend of delusion and well into the throes of utter psychosis, at 8:45am halfway across Los Angeles tomorrow for dim fucking sum. Oh god.

So suffice it to say this. Stacy Keach, playing Nixon, got out of the hospital and returned to the stage for this performance; consequently, there was a good actor in the room. I can’t imagine how hopeless the play would have been without him. I’m told the guy playing Frost (Alan Cox) got the real Frost just right (apparently, the real Frost was an absolute twit), so perhaps there were two good actors. But the rest were beyond terrible, one-dimensional unsubtle performances that shaded into the outright ham. I regularly see better acting at the student productions of Stanford, not a university known for its art culture.

Particularly terrible was the guy playing the idealistic American journalist, whose name was not even uttered (or perhaps I didn’t catch it), probably because the director didn’t have the heart to see his reputation shattered on what was, to all appearances, his first time setting foot on a stage. Sadly, his weird emphases and nonexistent blocking occupied a good quarter of the airtime. The actress playing Frost’s girlfriend, apart from having no visible reason to even be in the script and not advancing the story at all, also had an annoying and physically incongruent voice, perhaps brought on by her poor attempts at faking an accent.

Speaking of no visible reason to be in the script, the writing was no better than the acting. It was full of meandering dialogue that served no function whatsoever — and worse, meandering monologue, ditto! As noted, an entire character was added even though she generated no tension, advanced the story not at all, revealed nothing about any of the more important characters, and, generally, seemed only to be there lest someone accuse the playwright of sexism. (He sure solved that problem by adding a token woman to no point! Yep!)

Most bizarre of all, the play spent much of the time trying to be a comedy, with random unfunny laugh lines thrown in seemingly at random. (Many of the audience members laughed for no reason at all, at moments where there was not even an attempt at a joke.) There was precisely one genuinely funny line in the play, where Nixon jokes about having someone break into Frost’s hotel room before the interview. That’s it. Honestly, I don’t know why they even tried to make it funny. It isn’t a funny subject matter. Once, they even descended into slapstick, with Bob Zelnick doing a stupid Nixon victory sign impression, complete with playground-style jumping up and down. I blame the director for that one, for surely no actor could have gotten away with anything that ridiculous without the at least tacit culpability of the director.

As far as I can tell, the intended audience for this play is people who were regular Frost viewers back in the 70’s and have some kind of bizarre nostalgia for the TV version of one of those awful London tabloids, which is apparently what his show was.

At the end, there was a lengthy standing ovation, in which I felt pressured to participate becase, you know, this was Stacy Keach’s triumphant return to the production after a heart attack and all. But I do wish he and Alan Cox had machinegunned the rest of the cast, the director, and the playwright and just done their own damn thing.


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