David Frost (Jeremiah Thompson) and Former President Richard Nixon (Tom Minion) face off in a no holds barred interview in The Central New York Playhouse's production of Frost/Nixon running through Nov. 18 at the ShoppingTown Mall. (Amanda Beamish photo)
By Russ Tarby
Forty years ago, British talk-show host David Frost made history — and revived his flagging broadcast career – with a series of exclusive interviews with the mercurial Richard Nixon, the only U.S. President who resigned from office.
This month, CNY Playhouse and director Justin Polly stage Peter Morgan’s 2006 play “Frost/Nixon,” to revisit that memorable confrontation in which the skillful interviewer forces the disgraced ex-president to face up to uncomfortable truths about his participation in the Watergate coverup.
Although actor Tom Minion bears no physical resemblance to Nixon, he captures the man’s essence by vividly recreating his memorable voice and fidgety mannerisms.
Likewise, Jeremiah Thompson – who happens to work a day job as a reporter for WAER-FM — doesn’t look much like Frost, but his portrayal remains faithful to Frost’s image as a suave, charming jet-setter yet a serious and incisive broadcaster.
In Polly’s sure hands, the play is less a study of the famous one-on-one and more of a study of the questionable politics of the media.
Set designer William Edward White solidly supports Polly’s vision with an eye-catching set featuring six color monitors, two large rear-projection screens and two well-constructed 1970s-style studio cameras which actually function to bring close-ups to all those screens. Quite the technical achievement!
While Minion and Thompson carry the day, the supporting cast ably put the action in context. Tyler Ianuzi plays New York Times writer and Nixon nemesis James Reston who always tries to get Frost to induce a confession from Nixon whom he holds responsible for the horror of Vietnam. Jim Uva is convincing as Bob Zelnick, the veteran journalist hired to edit the interviews, and Jon Wilson is appropriately anxious as Jon Birt, the London TV executive who produced the Nixon Q&A.
Set designer White doubles as super-agent Swifty Lazar, who negotiates the deal that sends Nixon into the studio. White’s Lazar fluctuates between unctuous and uncompromising, demonstrating again why he remains one of the area’s top character actors.
Similarly, tall and formidable David Dean plays Nixon’s chief of staff, Jack Brennan, and he brings a palpable power to the minor role. Dean’s background is in comedy improv, but he has all the attributes of a dramatic leading man.
Kimberly Grader portrays Frost’s gal pal and Kasey Polly plays tennis star Evonne Goolagong while Alan Stillman tackles several tiny roles including Nixon’s scowling valet, Manolo Sanchez.
But of course, it’s Thompson and Minion in the titular roles who get all the good lines. Nixon’s sneaky gamesmanship comes to the fore the moment before the final interview when he leans over to Frost and asks, “Did you do any fornicating last night?”
And the show’s high point comes when a tipsy Tricky Dick makes a late-night phone call to Frost for a conversation that ranges from cheeseburgers to childhood trauma. Minion makes that moment come alive.
In this day an age when television has been thoroughly overshadowed by the many media platforms available digitally, “Frost/Nixon” may well inspire nostalgia for that time when TV played so important a part of our lives both culturally and politically.
“Frost/Nixon,” produced by Dan Rowlands, runs at 8 p.m., Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16, 17 and 18, at CNY Playhouse, located near the Macy’s entrance at on the second level of ShoppingTown Mall, in DeWitt. Tickets cost $17 on Thursday and $20 on Friday and Saturday; cnyplayhouse.org; 315-885-8960.