By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
As Roberto attempts to prevent the already near-dead ex-president from drowning himself in a lake, Mr. Nixon conjures memories for his final book, Going Home, in a reverie (accompanied on keyboard by music director David Morisaki) that leads him back to Chautauqua, 1900, to a painfully racist minstrel show (credit the producers for showing historical scars rather than shirking them), to the Greek island where resides the ghost of JFK, and into sundry clouds cuckooland where, in one instance, flat-footed Nixon ends up busing dishes at a restaurant for J. Edgar Hoover (Travis Michael Holder). Nixon also runs into his late wife, Pat, as well as Marilyn Monroe, both delicately played by Diana Costa. These are women with opposing experiences and temperaments who, nonetheless, depict a common loneliness emanating from a life in the national limelight.
Similarly on opposite sides of the same coin are Nixon and JFK, whom the ravages of time have rendered inversions of their former selves. There may be shadows of Nixon as bully, but, despite a tendency to exaggerate a tricky Dick lampoon, Rossi‘s Nixon reveals a bewildered patriot in second childhood, struggling to make sense of what went so terribly wrong -- with the nation as well as with his life. The attempt of such an impetuous character to be reflective has a comedic agony all to itself.
Clennon’s gaunt JFK, on the other hand, in sunglasses and with silver stubble, rolls around in his wheelchair like an old hedonist fox, bereft of the youthful ideals that inspired a generation to public service and principles of fairness. The Boston dialect is all that remains, delivered in withering cadences. He is cared for by two nurses, one of whom (Costa) opens her blouse for him to suck from her breast. She rubs his hair and wipes his lips with a towel. Our Hero. Kennedy offers her to Nixon for the same service, but he‘s too agog to partake: The Catholic and the Quaker, the playboy and the Puritan, the ”mean, world-champion son-of-a-bitch“ and the ”naive true-blue country boy underneath that long-headed facade of tics and tricks . . . We suckled power from the same tit.“
For an old lefty with an FBI file on him the size of Milwaukee, Freed shows remarkable compassion for Nixon as a senile old codger, who speaks more in blurts and repetitions than sentences. Clinton may have lied about an adulterous blowjob, but Nixon lied about masterminding a patently illegal break-in of Democratic Party offices. Earlier, he had gleefully tried to destroy the credibility of California Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, as though borrowing his smarmy technique from J. Edgar Hoover. (Indeed, in the ’50s, Nixon used to parade around in the same kind of fedora worn by Hoover.) None of which is in American Iliad, as though such trifles are too petty for a vision of Freed‘s scale. This is not a play about partisan politics, moral outrage or getting even, but about the sadness of destiny.
”The point is, we are cohorts,“ Kennedy intones to Nixon. ”The differences don’t matter because, between us, we defined our age . . . We‘re the undead, you and I.“
Director Gobetti blends Freed’s Joycean musings into an early-20th-century music hall, thereby nudging what is essentially a political meditation into an entertainment that‘s part chorale, and quite moving. Gears are still grinding with some shifts in style, but that may resolve itself with time. The Stars and Stripes visual motif is apt for a music hall, but it does bog down Freed’s ideas with the weight of obviousness.
Freed poses the historical question, What went wrong? Almost any scholar or historian would attempt to answer it, turning Freed‘s play into a lecture. Any poet knows that such a question is unanswerable. Thank God Freed doesn’t try.