Silver Spring Stage Frost/NixonBy Amy Berlin • Apr 16th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Silver Spring Stage: (Info) (Web)
Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through April 27th
2:00, without intermission
$20/$18 Seniors, Juniors
Reviewed April 12th, 2013
Two men on the brink of ruin have redemption at their fingertips, but only if they can best the other. Frost/Nixon, now playing at Silver Spring Stage, dramatizes (and fictionalizes) the story behind the 1977 televised interviews that former President Richard M. Nixon gave to British talk show host, David Frost. Frost sought to force Nixon to accept responsibility for his part in Watergate and to apologize to the American people. In his script, Peter Morgan intersperses dialogue from the actual interviews with imagined conversations between aides and between Frost and Nixon themselves, and Morgan postulates that Frost eventually succeeded, not through trickery, luck, or strategy, but rather by connecting with Nixon on a personal level and understanding his need to unburden.
The script itself is fascinating in its depiction of the two flawed men but less fascinating in its structure and supporting characters. Under Kevin O’Connell’s direction, Silver Spring Stage’s production retains the script’s strengths, as well as its weaknesses. As such, scenes of sublime dramatic tension are separated by wordy, uninvolving monologues and mini-subplots that are of little importance or interest.
Brendan Murray is especially engrossing as the playboy celebrity Frost. Murray ably constructs a complex character, for whom the stakes are very high in every scene even as he attempts to appear carefree. While he handles Frost’s British accent well, Murray is at his best in his silences; he is one of those gifted actors who can convey an entire inner monologue in a brief moment with only his eyes and his face. You learn more about Frost by watching Murray than you do by listening to him.
Michael Kharfen is almost as successful as Nixon. While not a spot-on impressionist, Kharfen ably evokes Nixon’s voice and physicality. In their scenes together, Kharfen and Murray work well sparring with each other, and it is great fun to watch the momentum move from one to the other. However, Kharfen’s Nixon is presented as a buffoon who got what he deserved; it might have provided more layered and nuanced drama to construct a multi-dimensional Nixon, one with enough leadership and charisma to entice voters and with enough humanity to make his fall more tragic.
O’Connell has fashioned a uniformly strong and focused ensemble. Of particular note were the elegant and understated Diana Partridge as Frost’s love interest and the intelligent and motivated David Dieudonne as one of Frost’s researchers. O’Connell also smartly moves the location of the interviews around the stage, providing differing views of the verbal boxing match.
Where O’Connell stumbles, however, is in not realizing that the slower, weaker portions of the script cannot sustain interest on their own, especially in a two-hour-intermissionless production. O’Connell and his designers and performers might have used any number of strategies to provide further dimension to the words — increased use of the ensemble in choreographed scene changes or as background extras, music or sound effects to underscore important moments and add interest, amped up investment and energy from the supporting players, or projections to set time or place, to name a few.
Instead, the color palette is black and brown, and the design elements are minimal. O’Connell himself designed the set, which consists of black walls, black curtains, and a few pieces of furniture that are carried in and out by the actors. Peter Caress’s lights are simple and seemed to serve only to isolate portions of the stage, rather than enhance the action or deepen the visual impact. While Crystal Simone Fergusson’s costumes and hair design were period appropriate, attractive, and varied (especially on the women), given the simplicity of the set and lights, the eye might have appreciated more pops of color.
O’Connell and company have presented Morgan’s script with intelligence and humor, but without adornment. However, a little adornment never hurt anybody. With a few bells and whistles, this interesting play might have grown into a riveting and consuming experience.
- Richard Nixon: Michael Kharfen
- Ollie, Mike Wallace, Technician, Partygoer: Gary Sullivan
- Studio Manager, Manolo Sanchez: Peter Orvetti
- Evonne Goolagong, Flight Attendent, Waitress, Studio Manager, Partygoer: Erica Smith
- Jim Reston: David Dieudonne
- David Frost: Brendan Murray
- Jack Brennan: Kevin Dykstra
- John Birt: Chris Tully
- Swifty Lazar: Mike Goll
- Caroline Cushing: Diana Partridge
- Bob Zelnick: Jack Scheer
- Producer: Devon Seybert
- Director: Kevin O’Connell
- Stage Manager: Pam Burks
- Set Designer & Set Decoration: Kevin O’Connell
- Painting: Pam Burks, Jamie Coupar & Devon Seybert
- Lighting Designer: Peter Caress
- Sound Designer: Jamie Coupar
- Crew: Kathleen Burke. Peter Caress, Jamie Coupar
- Costumer: Crystal Simone Ferguson
- Properties: Caroline Duffy
- Makeup and Hair Design: Crystal Simone Ferguson
- Dialect Coach: Gary Sullivan
- Artistic Liaison: Craig Allen Mummey
- Playbill: Leta Hall
- Playbill Cover Design: Craig Allen Mummey
- Subscription Brochure: Craig Allen Mummey
- Hospitality: Kathie Mack
Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9372.
Amy Berlin has a degree in theatre performance from the University of Maryland, and is currently living in Richmond, Virginia.