Friday, October 01, 2010

An Unimpeachably Dramatic Take On A Revelatory Conversation -- Theater Review: Frost/Nixon at TimeLine Theatre

Theater Review

a play by Peter Morgan
TimeLine Theatre, Chicago
Thru October 10

With no disrespect nor disparagement to the theaters Steppenwolf,  Goodman, Northlight, Next or Profiles--and others where I have also seen numerous stellar works--and excepting musical-only producing venues such as Marriott Lincolnshire, Drury Lane Oakbrook and Light Opera Works, there is no Chicago area theater that I attend with a greater expectation of satisfaction than TimeLine.

Granted, I don't see nearly as many productions there as at some of the others, but of the six shows I've seen at TimeLine, all have been very good to truly exceptional, giving them a higher "batting average" in my book than anywhere else.

And it seems I'm not the only one who thinks so, as although TimeLine continues to perform within a Lincoln Park church complex rather than in a posh downtown theater with its own marquee, I had to pay full price--still only $28--a month ahead of time just to get a ticket to Wednesday night's performance of their latest outstanding production, Frost/Nixon. Except for day-of-show and turnback ticket possibilities, the rest of the run through October 10 is already sold out.

Deservedly so. Although my familiarity with the 2008 movie version of the 2006 play--both penned by Peter Morgan--depleted some of the inherent suspense in the dramatics surrounding and within the televised 1977 interview of Richard Nixon by David Frost, everything about the Chicago Premiere at TimeLine was first-rate. And the friend I attended with, who had not seen the movie or acutely recalled the actual events, confirmed that the narrative was as riveting to him as the movie had been for me, which led me to call it my favorite film of 2008.

Because of my basic familiarity with the material and key plot points, the fine production didn't quite bristle with edge-of-your-seat tension, but I can't hold that against any of those involved. As you might not be able to get tickets this time around, the Ron Howard-directed movie could serve as a worthwhile introduction to this fascinating material, but the TimeLine cast delivers it with typical crackerjack panache.

Terry Hamilton--who I perhaps not so coincidentally remember leading rousing odes to corruption in TimeLine's magnificent version of "Fiorello"--gives a finely nuanced performance as the disgraced yet defiant former president giving his first interview after resigning in 1974. But the true standout is Andrew Carter, who captures David Frost--a British television personality but not heretofore respected journalist--with a tone and temperament that rivals Michael Sheen's remarkable movie portrayal. And Carter had to adopt an English accent, which he seemed to do perfectly.

In his role as Jim Reston, an advisor to Frost who serves as the play's narrator, Matthew Brumlow is also notably superb, as is David Parkes as Nixon chief-of-staff and staunch defender, Jack Brennan.

I won't pretend I'm astute enough to have naturally considered the connection between the Nixon we see here and reality-defying ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, but the parallels pointed out in a similarly laudatory review by Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones only serve to add a level of acuity to one of the best plays of recent times.

While it may seem that my recommendation may be moot given the scarcity of tickets, you needn't be resigned to being shut out. As the TimeLine website states, it may be possible to obtain tickets turned back by subscribers or get on a day-of-show waitlist. I suggest you try, as you'll not only be seeing a exemplary historical drama, but also a work emblematic of what very well may be the best theater group in Chicago.


Here's an absolutely fascinating clip of the real Nixon in his interview with Frost:

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