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Manbites Dog Theater Preview: Nixon's Nixon by Russell Lees Depicts The Embattled President's Final Days

August 12, 2004 - Durham, NC:


Durham, NC-based Manbites Dog Theater's timely Aug. 12-22 presentation of Nixon's Nixon, a 1995-96 OBIE-winning play by Russell Lees, cleverly chronicles the final days in office of this nation's beleaguered 37th president, Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-94), who resigned, effective Aug. 9, 1974, rather than face impeachment and trial for his part in the Watergate break-in and other scandals. Joseph Megel will guest-direct this two-character play, which stars Derrick Ivey as Nixon and Carl Martin as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In addition to Megel, the Manbites Dog production team includes set and lighting designer Shannon Clark, costume designer Diana Waldier, and vocal coach Christine Morris.

Manbites Dog writes, "[On] August 7, 1974[,] President Richard Nixon, deeply implicated in the Watergate scandal and facing certain impeachment, summons Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the White House for a private meeting. Two days later, Nixon resigns as the 37th president of the United States. Nixon's Nixon explores what might have happened at that meeting, as the two most powerful men in the world play a political end game to determine their places in history. On the thirtieth anniversary of Nixon's resignation, join us for a powerful political satire about the Richard Nixon in all of us."

Set in the Lincoln Sitting Room of the White House, on the night before President Nixon will announce that his resignation, Nixon's Nixon imagines one final colloquy between Nixon and Kissinger. "Unstable, nostalgic, garrulous and paranoid," according to Dramatists Play Service, Inc., "Nixon leads his Secretary of State on a journey through the high moments of his administration and Nixon's past. The journey borders on the surreal as Nixon pressures Kissinger into reenacting crucial scenes: Kissinger plays Nixon, Nixon plays Brezhnev, Kissinger plays Kennedy and Mao the scenarios become dizzying.

"Meanwhile," adds Dramatists Play Service, "Kissinger is subtly working to convince Nixon to step down so that he can pursue his geopolitical goals and his own quest for historical glory unencumbered by a weakened President. Nixon, however, can't face the lonely aftermath of such a decision; he envisions himself 'wandering some hellish golf course, waiting to die.'"

Dramatists Play Service says, "As the evening and the drinking progress the two concoct a plan to provoke an international crisis that would allow Nixon to leave office a hero. Kissinger muses, 'Sometimes I stare in the mirror. What's happening behind those eyes? I'm astonished. Mystified.' Then [he] adds, 'I like it.' Nixon confides he no longer stares in the mirror, although he did on the way up. He not only stared, he talked to himself. '"You sly dog," I'd say. And we'd share a secret smile. But then I fell. I fell like Satan tossed from heaven.'"

In reviewing the original 1996 Off-Broadway production, Vincent Canby of The New York Times saluted playwright Russell Lees' "blissfully funny and sometimes cruel fiction." Canby added, "[Nixon's Nixon is] both a serious work of the imagination and a fully realized political satire of the sort that the American theater seldom sees. It may also be the perfect antidote to Oliver Stone's fancy and flatulent three-hour-plus movie, Nixon, an upscale docudrama that pretends to deal in facts, a number of which may not be true."

"There is no way, " agreed A.C. Grayling of Online Review London, "that television or cinema could do what this play does so brilliantly well: which is to take two actors and a small space, and out of them reprise a crucial moment in the history of America and the world. It does it with economy, illumination, great wit and given the prima facie unattractiveness of the protagonists: sweating 'Tricky Dicky' Nixon, liar and cheat, and the wooden flat-voiced menacing Henry Kissinger surprising tenderness. This is theatre at its most potent, a species of magic, weaving whole worlds out of a few fine threads."

Second Opinion: Aug. 11th Independent Weekly preview by Byron Woods: http://indyweek.com/durham/current/woods.html.

Manbites Dog Theater presents Nixon's Nixon Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 12-14, at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 15, at 3:15 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, Aug. 18-21, at 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 22, at 3:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $15 Friday-Sunday and $12 Wednesday-Thursday, with $2 discount per ticket for advance online credit-card purchases. Note: Sneak Preview Bargain Night is Aug. 12, so pay what you like ($5 minimum). 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/2/.