Anyone Can Be President: Secret Honor at the Fringe
“Scathing” “lacerating” and “brilliant” were three of the words the late Roger Ebert applied to the 1984 Robert Altman movie of Secret Honor, with script by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, who wrote the play as well. Billed as The Last Testament of Richard M. Nixon, the play stands as one of the finest portraits of one of our most troubled and elusive presidents. Bootcamp Theatre’s Fringe production, directed by Nigel Fairs with Steve Scott as Richard M. Nixon, is simply superb. There are shocking revelations (or are they paranoid delusions?); for example, that Watergate was a cover-up for even worse crimes.
Scott has probed deeply into the soul of the man, and found—what? As with many things about Richard M. Nixon, it seems impossible to be sure. As the show opens, we hear one of Nixon’s most significant utterances; “Therefore, I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow.” Other memorable quotations from the period set the scene.
With an unadorned set, composed of chair, book, a tape machine, and, oh yes, gun, Scott begins his performance in a deceptively mild-mannered, reasonable tone. He is out to plead Nixon’s case before an unseen judge and the “Jury of the American People” comprised of the audience.
The whole trajectory of Nixon’s life is here, from his devotion to his mother, (he refers to himself as her “dog”), to the Alger Hiss case, to the China initiative, to what former U.S. Attorney John N. Mitchell called, “the White House horrors”, i.e. Watergate. Scott’s rage and sorrow build, as he fulminates against the Founders (“snotty English shits”), confesses that he really likes John Dean, and drinks and drinks and drinks, falling apart before our eyes. Director Nigel Fair has enabled Scott to explore every single nuance of the beautifully written script.
The play is almost like an operatic aria…one can imagine “Ridi, Pagliaccio…” in the background.
“Anyone can be president” is the adage chosen to represent Secret Honor. Needless to say, there are many inherent lessons for today. Anyone can be president, indeed.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2016 Capital Fringe Page.
RATING: BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!