Oh for a political era in which Russell Lees’s Nixon’s Nixon would not seem timely. This two-character play imagining a conversation between Henry Kissinger and Richard M. Nixon on the eve of Nixon’s resignation, originally debuted in 1996. It must have echoed investigations into Clintonian improprieties. The current revival, which reunites director Jim Simpson with actors Gerry Bamman and Steve Mellor, resonates with a lack of confidence in the current presidency and calls for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation.
Lees’s play vaults from the mordant to the satirical to the pensive, picturing a scotch-soaked tête-à-tête between Nixon and Kissinger on August 7, 1974. With Kissinger anxious to shore up his position and Nixon eager to secure his legacy, the two argue over the wisest course and relive shared triumphs. In one scene, Nixon imitates Brezhnev; in another he demands that the reluctant Kissinger play the role of Mao—in Chinese. They also consider concocting one last international crisis that Nixon could solve and thus exit a hero.
Bamman and Mellor both engage in remarkable transformations, the former acquiring jowls and the latter a paunch they don’t ordinarily possess. As the agitated Nixon, Bamman has the showier role, but Mellor provides assiduous German-accented support. Simpson directs at a velocious pace. Questions that still concern us—leadership, integrity, history, foreign policy—are treated with acerbic intelligence and hustle. It’s been 44 years since Nixon lost a gubernatorial bid and prematurely announced a retirement from politics, saying, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” Apparently he was mistaken, allowing Lees, Simpson, and the cast to deliver a kicking both thoughtful and amusing.