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LALT presents 'Frost/Nixon'

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Theatre: Production takes a trip to the Watergate era

By Jennifer Garcia

 

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Take a break from all the fiscal cliff hoopla and travel back in time, to a different political era with Los Alamos Little Theatre’s production of “Frost/Nixon.”

The show is directed by Courtney Lounsbury and starring Grady Hughes  as Richard Nixon and Don Monteith as David Frost.

Lounsbury did not want to give too much about the production away, but did say, “In 1974, then-President Richard Nixon resigned from office after the debacle that was Watergate. It left our nation reeling. No one had gotten Nixon to take any responsibility for the whole event, so we were left a wounded country. Three years later, David Frost — a man who had been a ‘mere’ talk show host — managed to land the interview of the decade with the former president. It was the  moment the country, if not the entire world, had been waiting for. This is about how it happened and the events that lead to those now-historic interviews.”

Hughes is no stranger to the LALT stage, but said playing Nixon is fascinating because he was “a fascinating figure not only in the history of the nation, but in the living memories of several of us in the production of ‘Frost/Nixon.’ He was, to borrow (Sir Winston) Churchill’s phrase, ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.’ ”

Hughes describes Nixon as a character of “genuinely Shakespearean proportions. He could only really be brought down by his actions. And the actions that brought him down were small and petty and yet co-existing with his largest acts and aspirations.”

He said there is enough of a “dynamic range”  of character representation (from low, foul-mouthed scheme to grand statesman) in the play “to make for a fine challenge to the actor.”

“The playwright takes some liberties, as playwrights do, with the historical record,” Hughes said. “In life, Nixon never let himself confess to the degree that he does in the play, but that release is dramatically compelling. He confesses, not really because Frost and (James) Restron have tripped him up, but because he is exhausted with carrying the guilt and takes his way of laying some of it down. So his admission is finally, like everything else about him, an act of his own will. What actor could resist that?”

Unlike Grady, Lounsbury is relatively new to being a director. This is her second production in that chair. Her first production was “Twelve Angry Men,” which she said had some behind-the-scenes issues. “Suffice it to say, it wasn’t pleasant, but it will always have a place in my heart as it was a project I’d wanted to do for many years,” she said.

Lounsbury had no intention of directing “Frost/Nixon.” In fact, she was called by the original director of this production, Jillian Burgin, and asked if she would like to be her stage manager. From there, it seemed to fall into her lap.

“I readily agreed to join her crew,” Lounsbury said. “Nearly a year later, I am directing the show as we are just about to open.”

Lounsbury said that not long after casting and beginning read-through rehearsals, Burgin moved to Yuma, Ariz., because of her job.

“The show had been Jillian’s pet project of sorts and it was near and dear to her. I didn’t want to see all of her hard word go to naught, so I volunteered to take over,” Lounsbury said.

When she took the reins, the cast was about two weeks into the rehearsal schedule. Lounsbury said she and Burgin talked at length about show specifics (the set, characterizations and blocking), before Burgin left, so she wanted to “stay true to how she had envisioned everything.”

Lounsbury describes “Frost/Nixon” as a furniture-heavy show and said this has caused some difficulty for the stage crew from time to time.

“Some pieces were hard to find and fabrication is always hard when it comes to historical pieces such as this. No matter the show, the fact that you’re working against the clock always seems to start hitting you in the last weeks. And no matter how secure you really feel, the butterflies start kicking in and you start double-checking everything,” she said.

“Frost/Nixon” opened New Year’s Eve, but there’s still ample opportunity to catch a show, starting at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4,5,11,12,18 and 19; and at 2 p.m. Jan. 13. 

Tickets are $12 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. They are available at C.B. Fox or at the door. For more information, visit lalt.org.