Nixon's Nixon

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 12:00am

On August 7 1974, president Richard Nixon called a meeting with secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Unlike much of what happened in the White House during the Nixon years - which was infamously preserved on secret tape - nobody except the two men present that night knew what was said.

But the whole world knew what happened next, when Nixon became the first American president to resign from office.

What if there had been one last tape? A video tape from that pre-video world? Russell Lees' play Nixon's Nixon is a recreation of what might have happened in that hour and a half, when the two most powerful men in America, who probably didn't like each other much, made some big decisions while downing a decanter of cognac.

'They gave me so much power,' ponders Nixon. 'Why were they surprised I used it?' And this is really what the piece is about - about how power can corrupt absolutely, how politics is an acting game and how the democratic process allowed one man, in five years, to have 800,000 deaths on his conscience.

Which all sounds very serious: but Lees' clever script, and powerful acting by both Keith Jochim as Nixon and Tim Donoghue as Kissinger, combine to make this a very funny play as well.

'You be Leonid, I'll be me,' says Nixon enthusiastically. When Kissinger demurs, it is Nixon who plays Brezhnev at the Moscow summit, Kissinger who plays Nixon. The audience - watching an actor playing a Jewish American politician pretending to be Nixon meeting a vodka-drinking Russian president at a critical Cold War moment - willingly suspends the belief at the theatrical trick. And laughs.

The most electrifying moment was when Donoghue/Kissinger 'became' chairman Mao Zedong. All around me people sat forward: were they edgy at the anti-communist comments from the stage? No, they were enjoying Kissinger's comic rendition of the tones in Putonghua.

Nixon's Nixon was written before Bill Clinton's impeachment (the process Nixon feared so much), but there are curious and constant echoes sounding between 1974 and 2001 - of a last day in which accounts have to be settled and presidential lies confronted.

Don't miss it.

Today, tomorrow and Feb 16-21, 8pm, Shouson Theatre, Arts Centre. $140-$240 Urbtix.


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