Political theater

Blue Room actors skillfully capture the night before Nixon is to announce his resignation

REMEMBER THAT TIME?<br>Henry Kissinger (Joe Hilsee, left) and Richard Nixon (David Davalos) spend an evening drinking and reflecting on their political careers in <i>Nixon’s Nixon.</i>

Henry Kissinger (Joe Hilsee, left) and Richard Nixon (David Davalos) spend an evening drinking and reflecting on their political careers in Nixon’s Nixon.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Several times during the past decade or so, I have sat in the Blue Room Theatre thinking, “This is the best play I have ever seen.” Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. These and many other Blue Room productions have far transcended any stereotypical preconceptions of what “local theater” is considered capable of achieving. Russell Lees’ Nixon’s Nixon hits the same not-to-be-missed standard of quality.

The play takes place in real time over the course of 70 intense minutes. It is the night before President Richard Nixon either will or will not announce his resignation from the highest office in the land.

When we enter the scene, Nixon has obviously already had a few conciliatory glasses of bourbon. He is flamboyantly mock-conducting a bombastic Tchaikovsky symphony while gazing out the window of the White House’s Lincoln Sitting Room. At the peak of the crescendo his performance is interrupted by the entrance of his adviser, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has dropped by to check on the president and steer him toward a course of action that will leave Kissinger’s place in history unsullied by Nixon’s ignominious fall from grace.

Under the direction of Jerry Miller, David Davalos as Nixon and Joe Hilsee as Kissinger inhabit their characters so completely that we forget we are audience members watching actors on a stage and instead become flies on the wall observing one of the crucial moments in American history. And what a moment it is. Playwright Russell Lees has crafted these two disgraced historical icons as consummate political cynics, and funny ones at that. Their 70 minutes of stage time present a condensed history of political chicanery from Nixon’s rise to power as Joe McCarthy’s commie-baiting accomplice to Kissinger’s plan to illegally bomb Cambodia and paradoxically win the Nobel Prize for Peace for ending the Vietnam War. Not to mention Watergate and the infamous Nixon audio tapes.

The history lesson is far from dry as the two reprobates take turns hilariously role-playing encounters with such key figures as Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Chinese leader Mao Zedong and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, all the while consuming the amber contents of a large cut crystal decanter and becoming increasingly, vociferously and profanely drunk.

“I’ll be him, you be me!” Nixon shouts at Kissinger before their reenactment of the Brezhnev scenario, and Kissinger does Nixon to a tee, to the point where Nixon is offended by the acuity of Kissinger’s spot-on impersonation—a beautifully orchestrated moment for actors and audience, simultaneously illuminating and hilarious. And that is only one of many such moments in this genuinely brilliant production.

Do yourself a favor and go see this show—it’s the kind of production that defines excellence.