Real-life drama


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

Bill Ogilvie would never be mistaken for Richard Nixon under normal circumstance, but Ogilvie's success in capturing the physical persona of the controversial 37th president of the United States is only one facet of his career-best performance in Manoa Valley Theatre's well-paced production of “;Frost/Nixon.”;






        Place: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road


Time: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 30


Tickets: $30 (discounts for seniors, military, and those 25 or younger)


Call: 988-6131 or visit



Give Greg Howell (Hair & Makeup Design) credit for a job very well done in crafting the distinctive hairline that adds visual credibility to Ogilvie's portrayal, but the crowning moment in the show is all Ogilvie as we watch him playing Nixon at the moment when the fallen president realized—while being interviewed by David Frost—that Frost possessed evidence of criminal intent that he could neither explain away nor rationalize to himself.

Watching Ogilvie play a man who must face that the game is up, that his lies have been uncovered and his political career is over without hope of resurrection, is a marvelous moment in local theater.

Ogilvie and director Bree Bumatai wisely avoid giving us a Nixon caricature of the ever-popular Rich Little “;I am not a crook!”; variety. Contemporary observers reported that Hitler and Stalin could be charming, convivial hosts when it suited them, and several of Nixon's predecessors and successors in the White House were also known for their “;people skills.”; So it seems was Nixon.

Playwright Peter Morgan's take on “;Tricky Dick”; seems represented most strongly by the outrage of journalist James Reston—shared by many in 1974—that Gerald Ford gave the man a full and unconditional pardon, while his corrupt henchmen and loyal foot soldiers got prison time. Even so, the villain of “;Frost/Nixon”; is oddly likable in an awkward and socially clumsy way.

Ned Van Zandt (David Frost) makes his MVT debut in the role of Nixon's nemesis, a talk-show host with a lightweight reputation who gambles that interviewing Nixon will kick-start his career as a serious television journalist. Van Zandt is solid and capable throughout despite laboring with a burden that even the best acting in the world struggles to surmount: The audience knows how the story ends—which means there is little emotional investment in Frost's momentary setbacks.

Rather, the story is akin to an intricate crime thriller. Frost identifies his target, assembles his team and then goes for the score.

Russell Motter (Jim Reston), Tim Dyke (John Birt) and Mathias Maas (Bob Zelnick) support Van Zandt with consistently competent work as Frost's team members. Allen Cole (Jack Brennen) returns as a jovial yet sinister agent of bureaucratic duplicity, and Mike Scott Robertson (Irving “;Swifty”; Lazar) is the catalyst in a comic scene where Nixon and his agent argue over which of them will deposit Frost's $200,000 down payment on Nixon's fee for doing the interview.

Be aware that a key conversation between Nixon and Frost is apparently a product of Morgan's imagination. Even so, MVT's “;Frost/Nixon”; is fascinating theater.