It is early August 1974, and President Richard Nixon is facing the end of his political career. He calls Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the White House’s Lincoln Sitting Room, late, and the two meet secretly.
Nixon’s Nixon, being presented at a variety of community venues by Elements Theatre Collective, is an entertaining, illuminating and surprisingly humanizing portrayal of their late-night, brandy-fueled strategic brainstorm on the eve of Nixon’s resignation. While it is fact that the two met that night, the content of their conversation comes mainly from the imagination of playwright Russell Lees.
Matt Tavianini directs with a sure hand. Staging in such a small space (Java Station on the night in question) is surely a challenge, even for a two-person production, but all works beautifully.
As Nixon, Michael Bernard — the company’s artistic director and accomplished actor/director — does an impressive job of conveying Nixon’s multi-faceted persona through expression, posture and attitude, never descending into cheap impersonation. He shows us Nixon’s bravado, his vulnerability and his regret.
A newcomer to Elements, Laezer Schlomkowitz is an utterly convincing Kissinger. Carefully considering his own political career and its viability, he is not uncaring about the president and his tortured state.
As the evening wears on and the level in the bottle goes down, things get increasingly surreal. Feeling nostalgic for past triumphs, Nixon cajoles Kissinger to act out scenes with him from previous foreign policy meetings with Chairman Mao and Leonid Brezhnev.
Eventually they hatch a plan to create a huge international incident that will allow the president to resign a hero, bringing the crazy to a crescendo.
Darkly comic and thought-provoking, this production opens Elements’ new season on the theme of Power & Influence. Coming in at 90 minutes and no intermission, this show is completely absorbing and entirely worth seeing in its final weekend.
Nixon’s Nixon runs through Sunday, Feb. 22. As a central goal of Elements’ mission, tickets are free, but it is requested that you visit www.elementstc.org to reserve seats.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.