By Dana Lacey
Eavesdropping on theatre-goers at Canadian Stage Company’s presentation of Frost/Nixon made me feel incredibly young. People were asking each other where they were during what would turn out to be the most-watched interview ever, and I wasn’t even a fetus yet. Full disclosure: I was born in the 80s. I wasn’t around during most of television’s big-time events: Other than September 11th, I can’t think of a single time I’ve been really moved by something on television. Sometimes I’m jealous that I wasn’t anywhere when Kennedy was shot, and that I missed out on the paranoia-fuelled days of Watergate. Reality television didn’t centre around singing back then, but was just a tacky. Frost/Nixon captures that perfectly.
In a word, Frost/Nixon was incredible. It retells and re-imagines the story of David Frost, the talk show host/playboy/man about town who was blessed/cursed to be the first to interview Nixon after his non-apologetic Presidential resignation. Everything Frost owned was hinged on the success of four 90-minute interviews: if Nixon didn’t say something shocking, networks wouldn’t air the show. You don’t need to have been alive during Watergate to understand the pressure Frost was under to get nothing less than a full confession from Nixon – not to mention an apology for putting the American people for two years of hell. That tension builds and builds throughout the play. I got so into it I didn’t even care there wasn’t an intermission. Set changes were jazz-filled, and I loved that parts of the interview were shown as t.v. clips, like you’re watching the event live. The narrator helped fill in the blanks, so my ignorance didn’t affect my enjoyment.
As a journalist, I admit that I subject myself to unreasonable levels of panic before most interviews. No matter how many I do, no matter how straightforward and boring they may be, I think it’s nerve wracking as hell. And I do most of my interviews in pj’s, not in front of millions of viewers. I tried imagining myself in Frost’s stylish Italian shoes, blessed–cursed?–with the opportunity to stick it to the one man everyone wants to see it, er, stuck to. David Storch as Frost was memorizing: just the right amount of flitty and fidgety, he was hilarious and sympathetic, managing to appear egotistical and utterly unconfident at the same time. His moments of doubt were heart wrenching (“I put everything i had into this interview. Why didn’t somebody STOP me?”) I especially enjoyed the behind-the-scenes team of angry, dedicated and hilarious investigative reporters working with Frost, who spent a year preparing for what would be the closet thing to a trial Nixon would ever face.
The dialogue was tight and full of laughs, and plenty of debate-worthy issues were raised. The friend I brought pointed out that the set looked like a boxing ring; Nixon’s men in one corner, Frost’s in the other. That’s how the whole play felt: Frost would throw a punch, Nixon would evade and hit back twice as hard. My friend didn’t like the Caroline character, the only woman in the play. She started out strong and witty, but was reduced to nothing more than a pretty face for the rest. We loved Tom McBeath as Nixon’s military confidante, and Alec Willows as his legendary gravely-voiced agent Swifty Lazar (“Don’t worry,” he tells the president when lining up the interview, “they’re going to pitch puff balls at you.”)
Maybe you’ve already seen the trailers for the upcoming Frost/Nixon movie, which give away some of the best lines of the interview (gems like “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” words which fell from the perspiring lips of Nixon himself.) Don’t worry, there are plenty of great one-liners, and actor Len Cariou (the original Sweeney Todd) did a great job of telling jokes nobody around him thought were funny, while keeping true to Nixon’s famous presidential poise and fierce intellect. It was my first exposure to non-Simpsons Nixon, and I was surprised to learn he was so witty. By the end, it was almost hard to hate him. Almost.
Photo by: David Cooper