Frost/Nixon at Silver Spring Stage by Keith Tittlermary

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“When the president does it, that means it is not illegal” – Richard Nixon, in his 1977 interview with David Frost.

 Michael Kharfen as Richard Nixon. Photo by Harvey Levine.
Michael Kharfen as Richard Nixon. Photo by Harvey Levine.

In 1977, British tabloid journalist David Frost set out to become the first person to interview disgraced president Richard Nixon since his 1974 resignation. In the almost 40 years since his fall from grace, Nixon has become the poster boy for political scandal, with many popular lexicons coming from this tumultuous time: Watergate, deep throat, “I am not a crook.” But when Frost sat down to interview him, no one could imagine that in an attempt to villainize the president, Nixon would show that he truly thought he didn’t do anything wrong.

And that is the basic premise of Peter Morgan’s 2006 political drama presented with brilliance by Silver Spring Stage. From a simple and effective bare stage furnished with a few elegant chairs to the period appropriate costume and hair design, the show focuses on what makes this play work on many levels: the characters.

Richard Nixon is an iconic figure and has become the fodder for many satire and jokes over the years, and playing Nixon in a serious piece is a tricky situation as to not turn him into a caricature, and fortunately for this production, Michael Kharfen delivers a knockout performance. He does not attempt to mimic Nixon, but rather makes the character his own. Kharfen hits all of the right notes in his vocal cadences and physical stature and shows that Nixon truly did not think he did anything illegal. In a way, Kharfen humanized the president without making the audience feel sorry for him.

As the other half of this eponymous piece, Brendan Murray is equal in his performance as David Frost. Murray plays Frost as the tabloid journalist attempting to make himself a legitimate interviewer. The turning point for the character is when he is accused by one of his staff members of being nothing more than a “talk show host”, and the physical transformation of Murray after this was so subtle, it made the character’s journey become apparent without saying a word.

Together, the odd couple-like duo of Kharfen and Murray play off each other amazingly well. The fictional phone conversation between Nixon and Frost which serves as the climatic apex of the play was outstanding in execution and kept the audience at the edge of their seats.

The supporting cast each played their multiple roles with great ease and should commended for enhancing the main action of the piece rather than distracting from it as ensembles can tend to do. A notable standout in the motley crew of actors was Mike Goll as sensational Hollywood agent, Swifty Lazar, and Diana Partridge as Caroline Cushing, Frost’s girlfriend.

Brendan Murray (David Frost) and Michael Kharfen (Richard Nixon), Photo by Harvey Levine.
Brendan Murray (David Frost) and Michael Kharfen (Richard Nixon), Photo by Harvey Levine.

The other star of the show is Director Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell affectively gets his actors to portray their characters based in truth rather than fiction and uses the bare stage extremely well. In the intermissionless show, the piece is divided into three acts: the background; the preparation; and the final act of the interview itself. O’Connell stages the interview act like a boxing match, complete with breaks between rounds when the fighters seemingly go to their respective corners, as if Burgess Meredith was waiting there to train them.

Silver Spring Stage should be commended for assembling a great team of actors and designers and portraying a dark moment in US history without sensationalizing it. It’s a Must See!

Running time: Two hours, with no intermission.

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Frost Nixon plays through April 27, 2013 at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road, in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 593-6036, or purchase them online.

Special Note: The Sunday, April 21st performance will feature a talkback with James Reston, Jr., one of David Frost’s team of researchers depicted in the play.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ushered yesterday afternoon at this marvelous production when researcher, teacher, author — the real Jim Reston who wrote “Frost/Nixon” — played by the super-duper-talented David Dieudonne — delighted the audience with the actual story of his studies into Watergate and meeting with the media moguls and Nixon. Silver Spring Stage is one of the best community theatres in the area (yes, many others, too) and this play is riveting despite no intermission. Michael Kharfen does indeed show the humanity — and evil and mysteries — of Nixon in the same way he once did with Hauptmann, another curious figure. Kharfen won a W.A.T.C.H. award for that other role and I can see him winning another for this one. Brendan Murray is no lightweight actor either and won a W.A.T.C.H. award for his role in “Doubt.” The scene described above is so taut — you can feel Frost’s emotions. The characters are mesmerizing and this was directed so well. Next wkend this play closes. Do yourselves a favor and do NOT miss this.

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