photo: Alastair Muir
Peter Morgan's play, concerning some of the machinations that led to Richard Nixon's confession of guilt while interviewed on television by David Frost, is mostly a comedy about the media and politics. The play is a lot of fun as far as it goes, briskly entertaining and engrossing even at two hours with no intermission, but it's facile, especially to those of us who have serious objections to seeing Richard Nixon depicted as something of an endearing, doddering old man without any trace of craftiness. Nixon's not far from being a Neil Simon character here: funny-thorny but finally tame. (Please understand that it isn't that I object to a sympathetic depiction of Nixon - I hold Secret Honor in a high place, for instance - it's that there's something that feels dishonest here. This Dick as written isn't the least bit Tricky). The play's strongest political statement is less about Nixon and more about the illegalities that are possible in an abuse of Presidential power - several moments in the play can easily be analogized to Bush, and the audience picks up on them hungrily. The play has been directed with savvy and economy and the acting is phenomenal - Michael Sheen doesn't shy away from playing some of Frost's less attractive qualities but manages to keep him likeable in the gladhanding sense of the word, and Frank Langella, given the confines of what the role in this play will and will not allow, is astounding: he seems to have found an emotional reason for every one of Nixon's mannerisms. Our greatest living American stage actor? Very possibly.