Nixon's Nixon, now onstage at Actors' Summit in Hudson, was first produced in 1995 - 20 years after the events that toppled the Nixon administration. Playwright Russell Lees speculates Nixon's final meeting with Kissinger on the night before he resigned. Given the number of imatators who have declaimed with arms on high that "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more," you might be expecting comedy.
Thinking back on Nixon's gifts and accomplishments, tragedy might be more appropriate. But what Lees give us - now that the events have lost their sting - is a kind of fantasy. Nixon and Kissinger spend the last few hours of his presidency whistling in the dark, reenacting his encounters with Brezhnev and Chairman Mao, and channeling the spirit of Napoleon.
The role of Nixon is a triumph for artistic director Neil Thackaberry. Under the direction of daughter Constance and supported by George Roth as Kissinger, Thackaberry's Nixon is a man with a rich fantasy life but without the imagination to foresee the consequences. This is Nixon after the fact, destined to fall by virtue of unbridled power and narcissism. Even so, Thackaberry renders him human and sympathetic, child-like, hopeful, even enthusiastic until the end.
The classically trained Roth makes the perfect foil. His Kissinger is a man trying very hard not to step in the doo-doo but drawn into reenactments by the force of Nixon's personality. One of the funniest moments of the evening is his wholehearted succumbing to a Dr. Strangelove sequence that involves lots of bombs and firepower, with Super Nixon somehow saving the day.
It all makes for some wonderful theater, and if the politics don't quite ring true, Lees has got that covered. An author's note in the program tell us: "The play is not so much about historical personages and their character traits as it is about the very human and personal struggles involved in retaining or relinquishing great power and coming to terms with one's legacy."
On the August night in 1974 when Nixon announced his resignation on television, Euclid Heights Boulevard in Cleveland Heights erupted with New Year's Eve noises. It was as though we had won the Super Bowl or the World Series. Never was a president so respected abroad and reviled at home. Tricky Dick we called him, and we were glad to see him fall by his own paranoia, his reliance on dirty tricks and bumbling blackguards.
But almost 35 years later, as Lees shows us, he doesn't seem so bad. Just think about Dick Cheney and Haliburton, the Bush dynasty and their relations with the Saudis. Nixon's operatives were clumsy and unprofessional, but at least they felt the need to conceal what they did. Nixon's Nixon reminds us that the stakes used to be higher - and both the electorate and press were more vigilant.
Nixon's Nixon Through November 9 Actors' Summit 86 Owen Brown St., Hudson 330.342.0800