On March 12, the touring production of Peter Morgan’s play Frost/Nixon with Alan Cox and Stacy Keach in the title roles opens at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, and this weekend Keach talked about the experience of portraying RN with the Orange County Register’s Paul Hodgins. The acclaimed actor acknowledges that “I’ve always been biased against Nixon – ever since the ’70s and Watergate,” but points out that since signing on to the production, “I’ve really come to understand him a little better [...] I find myself having a lot more sympathy for him than when I first took this role.”
Keach also reveals that he has avoided seeing Ron Howard’s film of Frost/Nixon, and says of the play:
“It’s designed to work in the theater. It’s so much about how the media affects our lives and how image is such an important part of being on TV [...] When you see it in the theater you get the live image and the projected image simultaneously as if you’re at a concert or a sporting event. I think it makes the experience much more dynamic.”
And, having seen both play and film, I can confirm that the use of a giant TV screen onstage to display Keach’s close-ups, as he works his way through the drama’s cathartic confrontation over Watergate, has a power that is missing from the film, where the juxtaposition of TV monitors with Frank Langella sitting in the living-room set somewhat detracts from the effectiveness of his performance.
Keach also expresses a fondness for the wholly invented scene in which an inebriated RN phones David Frost at his hotel. This is rather understandable, since the scene, as much as it varies from what President Nixon would have said or done, gives Keach a chance to do a virtuoso turn on the boards.