Nixon’s Nixon

September 28, 2019

in Plays

Play (2006)
by Russell Lees

Directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue

New Repertory Theatre
Mosesian Center for the Arts
321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA
September 14 – October 6, 2019

With Jeremiah Kissel (Richard Nixon), Joel Colodner (Henry Kissinger)

Joel Colodner as Henry Kissinger, Jeremiah Kissel as Richard Nixon in 'Nixon's Nixon'

Joel Colodner as Henry Kissinger
Jeremiah Kissel as Richard Nixon
in “Nixon’s Nixon”
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures
Courtesy of New Repertory Theatre

A beautifully acted two-person play about Nixon and Kissinger on Nixon’s last night in office.

In general, there are all kinds of reports and rumors about Nixon’s emotionally fraught end as President. One well known story involves Kissinger’s account of how, on the night before he resigned, Nixon asked Kissinger to get down on his knees to pray with him. Nixon’s Nixon is a dramatization and extrapolation of such accounts, a thoughtful, daunting and wryly entertaining account of, and speculation on, what occurred between Nixon and Kissinger at that fateful time.

The two Boston-based highly accomplished leads in this show, Jeremiah Kissel who plays Nixon, and Joel Kolodner who plays Kissinger, engage with their material, and with one another, with such force, gusto, perspicacity and humor that this production represents a dual tour de force. It is an amazingly eloquent and timely rendition of a heartbreaking event in our history now verging on fifty years past.

The play is ingeniously written in such a way that Nixon’s desperation to recount what he might be remembered for, despite his complicity in Watergate thievery, enables the two actors to extensively impersonate world figures like Mao and Brezhnev. Each of the actors brilliantly takes on these roles and related accents at different times and brings to life these world-historic personalities in the moments of engagement as Nixon and Kissinger recall them.

Panic runs at a feverish pace throughout. Nixon is desperately uncertain about whether to actually resign the next day or not. He is equally unsettled, if he does, about what will happen to his legacy. Kissinger is nervous in his own way about his future and wonders whether Gerald Ford, who would assume the Presidency if Nixon were to resign, would keep him on as Secretary of State and enable him to continue his diplomatic initiatives. He’s also desperately worried about what Nixon’s White House tapes will reveal about his own involvements with Nixon’s shenanigans.

Kissel and Colodner collaborated to enormous success a few years ago under the same director in a play called Imagining Madoff. It posed Kissel as Madoff and Colodner as an imagined Jewish scholar who confronts him about his errant ways. In some respects, Kissel’s and Colodner’s roles in Nixon’s Nixon parallel their roles in Imagining Madoff, with Nixon as a kind of wild and untrammeled parallel to Madoff and Kissinger as an eggheadier variant of the Jewish scholar.

The amazing thing about Kissel’s embodiment of Nixon is that it takes on relatively little of the outer forms of Nixonhood while conveying the inner forms brilliantly. Instead of trying to mimic Nixon’s swampy baritone or hunched posture, Kissel forgoes those obvious tags and heads straight for the character’s troubled, frenzied heart and errant soul. Though the vehicle of transmitting that is Kissel’s own natural accent and demeanor the result is brilliantly effective.

In addition to the opportunities for both actors to get into accents impersonating mostly Brezhnev, is Colodner’s extremely impressive holding forth in Mandarin at considerable length to mimic Mao’s interchanges with Nixon.

Though just under ninety minutes without intermission, the play feels like it offers a vividly comprehensive imagined traversal of the relevant material, with these two fine actors giving this tempestuous improvisation on history their all.

Wonderfully funny in its revelations despite its tragic content, the play and this excellent production is an entertainment as well as a cautionary reflection. Ironic in its humor, the play offers a good form of release at the present time, offering a vivid sense of the tragically flawed and the pathetically vulnerable in the arms of power.

Overall: A concise, well written, play in a beautifully acted and directed production.

– BADMan

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: