First a hit play by Peter Morgan and then a movie by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon tells the story of the pivotal 1977 TV interviews between journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon.
It’s now a local production at Muse Arts Warehouse beginning this weekend, starring Christopher Blair and Bill DeYoung in the title roles, respectively.
It was a high stakes game for both men. Frost was trying to rehabilitate his reputation as a serious journalist, and Nixon was trying to rehabilitate his reputation after his resignation following the Watergate scandal.
While the bulk of the action centers around the eponymous characters, this is no My Dinner With Andre. The cast totals 10 capable local actors, and is directed by local theatre veteran Grace Diaz Tootle. We spoke to Blair/Frost and DeYoung/Nixon last week.
Why should someone who doesn’t care about politics come see this play?
DeYoung/Nixon: It’s not really about politics. It’s about two men from different worlds, and both of them are looking for the same thing — a sort of redemption. They’ve failed, and they see these interviews as a way out of the dumpster. It also draws a parallel line between politics and showbiz.
Blair/Frost: It’s about two men, both desperate to get back into the spotlight, and who think the other will provide a way. The drama and a lot of the humor of the play comes from seeing how much they want to succeed and from both of them underestimating the other.
Compassion for Nixon=Sympathy for the Devil. Discuss.
Blair/Frost: Compassion isn’t the right word. The play provides a little more insight into who Nixon was as a person but it certainly doesn’t excuse what took place in his administration.
DeYoung/Nixon: You get a sense of Nixon as the conniving politician, sure, but the play also goes to some lengths to depict him as a deeply flawed and uncomfortable man who has no social graces whatsoever, and is acutely aware of that fact. He also comes off, on occasion, as something of a buffoon.
Bill, how do you keep from doing the stereotypical Nixon impersonation?
DeYoung/Nixon: I grew up watching David Frye and Rich Little do that stuff on TV, so it’s easy to know what not to do – shaking your jowls and saying ‘I am not a crook.’ Anyway, I don’t have jowls (as far as I know) and I’m not an impersonator, so it would probably just look and sound stupid if I tried. He’s a character in a play.
Chris, how has your relationship with your Frost wig blossomed over time?
Blair/Frost: We are not getting along these days. It is demanding its own dressing room and can not remember its lines. I have a much better relationship with my mutton chop sideburns. They are always very professional.
Tell us one unusual thing about your character that people may not know about.
DeYoung/Nixon: Nixon tended to take a sleeping pill, have a couple of drinks and drunk–dial people in the middle of the night. Morgan wrote a scene in the play – maybe one of the best scenes – based on that information.
Blair/Frost: I’m not sure if this is a big revelation, but I didn’t realize until I read the script and saw the film that David Frost was a big flirt and bit of a playboy. That’s been very fun to play.
The Frost/Nixon interviews as early reality TV. Discuss.
DeYoung/Nixon: Nixon had been out of the public eye for more than two years when he did the Frost interviews. I imagine the curiosity factor alone compelled people to tune in, or it was like a train wreck – you couldn’t not watch. This was The Biggest Loser for the 1970s, while both David and Dick were hoping it would be Survivor.
Blair/Frost: I’m not sure the interviews themselves draw that parallel, but the behind–the–scenes stuff that is in the play would have made a very compelling reality show.
¿Quien es mas macho? Frost/Nixon?
DeYoung/Nixon: The only macho guy in the show is Jack Brennan, Nixon’s ex–military chief of staff. Bailey Davidson plays him, and he makes the rest of us look like Stay–Puft marshmallow men.
Blair/Frost: While I do agree that Jack Brennan, played by Bailey Davidson, wins the machismo prize, I think it takes a real man to wear Italian Gucci loafers.
When: March 4-5, 11-12 at 8 p.m.; March 6 and 13 at 3 p.m.
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
Cost: $15 public; $10 for students and military with I.D.
Info: (912) 713-1137