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Monday, April 23, 2007

 

Tony Award Preview Week: Frost/Nixon

FROST/NIXON
by Peter Morgan, directed by Michael Grandage
starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Corey Johnson, Remy Auberjonois, Arman Schultz and Stephen Rowe
Jacobs Theatre, New York City

If there is a singular reason to see Peter Morgan's new documentary-styled drama Frost/Nixon, that reason can be summed up in two small but mighty words: Michael Sheen. To fans of Sheen's film work (in The Queen, Wilde, or Underworld), it will come as no surprise that his portrayal of playboy talk show host David Frost brims with complexity, contradiction and bravura moments. Exuding an outward jazzy confidence that belies the desperate, needy personality underneath, Sheen's Frost is a dazzling jumble of conflicting desires, a talented but irresponsible man whose chance at history is a seminal moment. It's a shame that the play, a solid but unremarkable look at the legacy of Richard Nixon and his mid-70's interviews with Frost, doesn't manage to reach the delicious style or provocative substance of Sheen's performance. Morgan's dismayingly obvious play merely reinforces well-known facts and liberal atmospherics about the disgraced president, and Frank Langella's hammy, overblown performance does nothing to modify that perception. (Nixon as a blustery, demonic buffoon? Surprise surprise.) Where Frost/Nixon finds its strength and saving grace is in Michael Grandage's superb direction, which underscores the importance of television in the downfall of the president; a bank of television screens, lifted high above the stage, are used to great effect in chronicling Nixon's inability to see himself as others did. Ultimately, Grandage and Sheen make Frost/Nixon better than the play actually is…and in the process, also make it worth seeing.

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