11:20 AM CDT on Thursday, April 30, 2009
By Lawson Taitte / The Dallas Morning News
President Richard M. Nixon may never have achieved the rehabilitation in public esteem he so craved in his lifetime. He’s got it now, though, at least as Stacy Keach plays him in Frost/Nixon.
Peter Morgan’s play about the TV interviews Nixon gave to talk-show host David Frost had its origin in that most fecund of London theatrical enterprises, the Donmar Warehouse. The show then traveled to Broadway and went on to become a major film, winning Tony Awards and Oscar nominations both for the vehicle and the star who played the president, Frank Langella.
If there’s any actor on the American stage with more stature, more sheer talent, than Langella, it’s Stacy Keach. He headlines the touring version that the Dallas Summer Musicals brought to the Majestic Theatre on Wednesday.
The marvelous Langella brought depth and tragic dignity to the role of the disgraced President three years after his unparalleled resignation from office. But he also brought a certain smarminess to the role and a whiff of parody in the ways he adapted some of Nixon’s well-known mannerisms and vocal patterns.
Smarmy is not a word you’d ever use to describe Keach’s Nixon. Tortured, self-regarding, yes, perhaps even venal. But this figure projects a fallen grandeur and canny, self-possessed intellect that command respect – and maybe even affection.
The touring version (directed, like the original, by Michael Grandage) does have its own quota of smarminess. Alan Cox’s Frost oozes slime right up to the final moments when he at last gets Nixon to confess wrongdoing on camera (something that never actually happened in real life, by the way). Even that formidable journalist Jim Reston in this young incarnation (as played by Brian Sgambati) is lightweight and petty in comparison with the wounded-bear Keach as Nixon.
It’s too bad that Keach probably won’t be touring his version of King Lear (to be seen in Washington, D.C., this summer) and that he hasn’t been seen more frequently in great plays in New York and around the country. He commands the stage as only a couple of American actors of his generation do. Whatever your politics, don’t miss the chance to see him do his stuff in Frost/Nixon.