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A Surreal Take on Nixon's Crisis
By Pat Craig

 02/06/2008

If it were possible to be completely apolitical while watching Russell Lees' wildly funny and surprisingly touching, "Nixon's Nixon," you might be able appreciate it as an early history of the time when a certain moral ambiguity crept into the notion of being "presidential."


Throughout history there had been lapses along the lines of the Teapot Dome Scandal, and there had been whispers about executive branch hanky panky. But with landslide victories, the Nixon administration, in its second term had reached the peak of what turned out to be an extremely slippery presidential slope. From that lofty perch, it launched the downward slide that, to a greater or lesser degree, has been part of presidencies since.

Nixon's was the last administration where the chief executive would rarely be seen in public without a necktie, and wouldn't dream of giving witness to his virility by wearing a 10-gallon hat or chopping wood. It ended the uptight, button down era. And, at the same time, it began semi-official recognition of American presidents not necessarily having to play by the rules.
And it is with that spirit Lees' play, a Center Rep production at the Lesher Center, unfolds on a surreal, off-kilter ivory set (a triumphant design by Scott Welden). In that skewed, angular world, the only colors in the room are the dark suits worn by President Nixon (Andrew Hurteau) and Henry Kissinger (Steve Irish), and the hues of various liquors consumed in large amounts.

It is on the night before Nixon's 1974 resignation. The president is already a little tipsy in the Lincoln Sitting Room at the White House, when Secretary of State Kissinger arrives. Both men have ulterior motives -- Kissinger to save his job into the new Ford administration, and Nixon to find some way to, if not remain in office, at least to resign with some shard of dignity.
As the two men drink and reminisce, Kissinger keeps trying to steer the conversation toward Nixon picking up the phone and calling Gerald Ford to put in a good word for the secretary. Nixon, however, almost refusing to recognize the event about to unfold, insists on reliving his administration's high points -- the breakthrough's with Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev and the opening of China.

These events are replicated in Nixon-inspired mini-plays, with Nixon playing himself, and Kissinger taking the parts of Brezhnev or Chairman Mao (and then the two changing the role they play). The game also includes a post-election conversation between Nixon and JFK, with various, wildly funny, variations on what actually happened during the meetings.
The actors are simply superb, creating not necessarily dead-on impersonations of the two figures, but representations that capture as much the character and physicality as they do the voices (the quality carries over to Mike Taylor, who has a small silent role at the beginning, which may be one of the funniest bits in the whole show).

Michael Butler, who has directed "Nixon's Nixon" three times before, has given this version a fast-paced crispness that manages to capture both the enormity of the resignation as well as the wicked hilarity of the piece.


Nixon’s Nixon: The Madness of King Richard! 
By Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave
Feb. 08‚ 2008

It was fitting that I saw ‘Russell Lee’ “Nixon-Nixon” at the Dean Lesher Center for performing Arts on “Super Tuesday”. Somehow, ironic that we are into an election now to replace another Nixonian type president. Perhaps in time there will be a play entitled “Bush’s Bush”, or something similar. It would make Nixon sound like Snow White.

During 80 one-act minutes (no intermission) we watch two actors (Andrew Hurteau as Nixon and Steve Irish as Kissinger) on the eve of Richard Nixon’s resignation as President of the United States, in 1974, at the time of the Watergate scandal. Of course, the conversation between Nixon and Kissinger is imaginary. What we are watching on the stage is set in the Lincoln Room at the White House. We are the flies on the wall during the bizarre conversation. Kissinger is trying to get Nixon to agree to resign. It would benefit Kissinger and basically save his ass and his political future.

Nixon is portrayed as a petty, foul-mouthed, egomaniac that is convinced that he has King like powers. Kissinger is viewed as a power hungry wheeler-dealer, who is only concerned about himself, rather than the U.S. or his soon to be forgotten boss.

The two carry on the conversation with lots of booze under their belt, shouting, screaming, and cajoling each other with tales of past glories, mistakes and power plays. Nixon is worried about how history will remember him. Does that sound familiar?

Some of the highlights in this show, have the actors imitating Chairman Mao, Leonid Breshnev, JFK and Golda Meir. Steve Irish is excellent as Kissinger. His voice changes are a marvel. Andrew Hurteau, had all the gestures, tics, facial expressions of Nixon. Although he did not really look exactly like Nixon – he managed to make us believe that he was the ex-prez.

The set designed by Scott Weldin is fabulous. Especially interesting is the last scene when the helicopter takes off with Nixon giving his usual arms in the air greeting. The set becomes the Helicopter. Sharply directed by Michael Butler.

The Sum Up: Hypnotic…intense and revealing.

RATING: THREE GLASS OF CHAMPAGNE!!! –trademarked-

AT THE CENTER REP THEATRE -- DEAN LESHER CENTER – WALNUT CREEK

EXTRA: Andrew Hurteau is no stranger to playing a royal. He was the Duke of Albany in King Lear and Lord Stanley in Richard III. He was also in the terrific “Nero” at the Magic Theater. EXTRA 2 -- Steve Irish (Kissinger) was in the wonderful ‘Bot’ at the Magic Theater. He was also in Richard the III – appearing opposite Alfred Molina at the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles. Lets hear it for the Royals!