Maverick's 'Frost/Nixon' Pulls No Punches
WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Fullerton's Maverick Theater revives political and TV history with this reality-inspired play.
Through May 27
8 p.m. Friday & Saturdays;
4 p.m. Sundays
110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton
Before the lights even dim, Frost/Nixon is a TV show.
Several minutes of the August 8, 1974 broadcast of the "ABC Evening News" play on video screens around the theater. Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith gave the night’s lead-in to what everyone then knew would be President Richard Nixon’s announcement that he would end his presidency.
Video becomes theatrical reality as moments later, Nixon gives the speech encircled by the Maverick Theater audience. So begins the latest experiment in fourth-wall breaking by Orange County’s most ambitious community theater.
As imagined by Maverick’s Brian Newell, this version of Frost/Nixon, the infamous TV interviews that became a play that became a movie, is presented in a way that much of the country saw at the time: a cultural and political prizefight.
Lead by the performances of Joe Parrish as the 37th president of the United States and David Herbelin as TV show host and interviewer David Frost, this is a production in constant motion. And like the punches and footwork of a heavyweight bout, it propels Frost/Nixon into a tense knot even if everyone knows how it will end.
Though neither lead looks particularly like the real life men they are playing, the strength of the performances sweep things along. Neither Parrish nor Herbelin make the mistake of doing celebrity impersonations, and instead try to inhabit their characters. And strong support from Mark Coyan’s almost ferocious portrayal of Nixon aide Jack Brennan, Ben Green’s Jim Reston and Rob Downs’ Bob Zelnick help the production breathe with life.
As the interviews begin (the original taping in April 1977 took place in a home just down the freeway in Monarch Bay), Nixon twists and turns and manipulates, while Frost merely tries to keep up. But eventually, Frost is able to corner Nixon into admitting his own wrongdoing, something no other interviewer had ever done. And the moment still tingles because any American old enough to remember Watergate knows what the admission means. It was a remarkable flash of television history and an exchange that only deepened American cynicism of government and politics, and ironically further ratcheted up political parties' attempt to control media.
While it’s true modern media and politics are often difficult to distinguish from a prizefight, for the Maverick, Frost/Nixon is merely a thrilling night at the theater.