Entertainment » Theatre

Nixon’s Nixon

by Jack Hafferkamp
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Sep 1, 2008
Larry Yandow as Nixon and William Brown as Kissinger
Larry Yandow as Nixon and William Brown as Kissinger  (Source:Michael Brosilow)

On the evening of August 7, 1974, Richard Nixon was on the verge of resigning his presidency; brought down by the Watergate scandal.

If you weren't alive or paying attention then, it was the climax of one of the most fascinating and bizarre episodes in American political history - the fall a successful, arrogant-yet-paranoid president, a plain-spoken man of humble origins who had scaled the heights only to shoot himself in the foot by authorizing a two-bit burglary.

On the night before he was to give up the highest office of the land and go, in disgrace, into hiding, what thoughts were torturing him? Michael Lees' intense two-person drama, Nixon's Nixon imagines what might have happened in the Lincoln sitting room of the White House on the night before Nixon flew off in a helicopter into infamy.

This is that second production of Nixon's Nixon by Writers Theater. Directed again, as in the original 2000 production, by Michael Halberstam, it brings back Larry Yandow and William Brown to reprise their roles as Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

And they are a wonder, turning in intense, powerful, beautifully honed physical performances.

My hat is off to Larry Yandow for creating a Nixon who is both despicable yet someone we can understand and pity. His performance is so intense I’m not sure how he manages to dial it up four nights a week and twice a day on the weekends.

Eight years ago Brown won a Joseph Jefferson award and Yandow was recognized with a Jefferson nomination for their work in this difficult, demanding play. While I did not see the original production it is hard to imagine them being better than in the performance I saw. Channeling these two men - so different in personal history and style, yet so alike in ambition and drive - Yandow and Brown yank us back in time to a perilous moment in American history and they make us feel it, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a glimpse into the souls of real people caught up in the final act of chain of events gone very wrong.

After the riveting-yet-agonizing national experience of the Watergate hearings and the realities of impeachment closing in, the president of the United States was hiding in the White House and imploding. It was an actual, real live tragedy. as stark as anything written by Aeschylus, Euripides or Sophocles and much of it happened right before our eyes on TV and in the papers.

What I particularly like about this production is that it manages to find something human in Richard Nixon's fall, something that turns a most unlikable man into someone we can find in our selves. It is a drama about personal loss and it is riveting.

My hat is off Larry Yandow for creating a Nixon who is both despicable yet someone we can understand and pity. His performance is so intense I'm not sure how he manages to dial it up four nights a week and twice a day on the weekends.

In fact, kudos belong to the entire Writers' Theater team for creating a marvelous theater experience. That includes at tip of the hat to Jack Magaw's scenic design, Josh Schmidt's sound design, Keith Parham's lighting and Sarah Heberlein's costumes. Michael Halberstam also gets very high marks for giving his actors room to inhabit their complex, fascinating characters.

Nixon's Nixon runs Tuesdays to Sundays through Oct. 19 at Writer's Theater, 664 Vernon, Glencoe. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays; Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $60 to $75 at 847-242-6000 or at www.writerstheater.org.

Jack Hafferkamp covers Chicago


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