Ostensibly, it was an interview. But when fading TV personality David Frost sat down to videotape nearly 30 hours of chat with disgraced ex-president Richard M. Nixon in 1977 (subsequently compressed into four 90-minute syndicated programs), the British-born Frost served as more than an interviewer. He became a prosecutor, wresting from Nixon a mea culpa for Watergate and turning their encounter into a cause célèbre mix of trial, bullfight, and boxing match.
For years, TV-drama writer Peter Morgan dreamed of making the showdown a play. Before he gained international attention with big-screen scripts (for The Queen and The Last King of Scotland), he managed to get Frost/Nixon, his playwriting debut, up and running in London, where it drew accolades in the 251-seat Donmar Warehouse. On Broadway it’s less intimate but no less acclaimed, and still under Michael Grandage’s brisk direction. So is Morgan as adept at stagecraft as he is at writing for film and TV? Not yet, given his reliance on supporting expositors who aren’t really characters.
But why quibble when you’ve got such superb stars? Frank Langella will likely grab a Tony for bringing a puckish sense of humor to Nixon’s self-pitying patter. And Michael Sheen, shamefully overlooked for a Tony nod, finds every gradation of glib fatuosity in Frost’s social climbing. Catch it before Ron Howard’s movie version homogenizes the whole thing.