The current show at The Gamm Theatre is Russell Lees, "Nixon's Nixon", a tragically funny fact-based fiction surrounding the fall of President Richard Nixon. It is the animated, imagined exchange between the power hungry pair, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the eve before Nixon's resignation. It's a historical fact that, on the night before he announced his resignation, President Richard Nixon summoned Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the White House. What might have transpired between these two larger-than-life characters is the subject of Lees political satire about what might have happened at that secret meeting on August 7, 1974. Paranoid and on the verge of hysteria, Nixon knows he must resign but wants to be talked out of it. Steely and rational, Kissinger does not want to lose his position as Secretary of State. Both men's egos are out of control. As the liquor flows, they wrestle with history, re-enact scenes of their political triumphs and eventually concoct a dizzying and doomed plot to keep Nixon in office. The author creates a play "about the very human and personal struggles involved with relinquishing great power and coming to terms with ones legacy." The 90 minute play directed beautifully by Judith Swift flows along perfectly with excellent pacing and acting by her two cast members. They capture the essence of both megalomaniacs wonderfully. Having lived through Nixon's presidency, this portrayal of him hits the nail on the head especially when you consider that Carol Channing was at the top of his enemy's list. A brilliant show that is powerful, funny and fast paced, make this into a must see show.
The setting for the show is the Lincoln room at the White House which was designed by Katryne Hecht. The set moves apart in the final scene to reveal the presidential seal as the helicopter lands to take Nixon from the White House after he resigns. (Assistant stage manager, Marc McClure moves the set with ease.) The author wondered if he should try to make parallels with current events but they are already there. The disputed election, the paranoid secrecy, the misbegotten war and the mumbling advisers. The two actors in this show are phenomenal. Jim O'Brien plays Nixon, who rants and raves about himself, obsessed with his place in the history books. He proclaims that "Jefferson had some funny business, too." The show evokes laughter during times of uncertainty, even when shock of disgust might be more appropriate. One of the most powerful moments occur when Nixon throws a drink in Kissinger's face and the audience gasps in unison. Jim doesn't try to mimic Nixon but creates his own characterization of him. Nixon speaks of his triumphs and imitates Brezhnev and Golda Meir. Nixon also speaks tenderly about his daughter, Julie who defended him even though he knows he was guilty. He gives a topnotch acting job in this show. Christopher Francis Byrnes is also stunning as Kissinger. His German accent is perfect and he is a hoot when doing his Chinese accent when imitating Mao during the historic visit to China in 1972. Kissinger keeps hammering away at Nixon to speak to Gerald Ford about keeping him on as Ford's Secretary of State as he keeps trying to push Nixon out of the way. Kissinger suggests "You could write your memoirs" while Nixon glares at him and then he backtracks by saying "perhaps it's a bit too soon." The verbal sparring between Jim and Chris is riveting as they go back and forth with each other. Another funny moment is when Nixon proclaims that J. Edgar Hoover secretly wiretapped Kissinger and has secret files on him as Nixon is ready to leave in the helicopter, Kissinger yells out "Where are the tapes, Mr. President?" So for a fabulous evening of topnotch theatre at its very best, be sure to catch "Nixon's Nixon". Tell them Tony sent you.