Exploring Nixon's Human Nature

President Richard M. Nixon had a
President Richard M. Nixon had a "vulnerable and insecure side," a former aide says. (Associated Press)
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By Wendi Kaufman
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 23, 2008

On Aug. 8, 1974, in a nationally televised speech, President Richard M. Nixon announced his resignation.

The night before, Nixon met with his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, in the Lincoln Sitting Room. What transpired is the fodder for "Nixon's Nixon," a politically charged satire by Russell Lees beginning Wednesday at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda.

The two-man play takes an imaginative look at that late-night discussion in which Nixon and Kissinger relive their triumphs and failures in a way that is funny and surprisingly poignant. "Nixon's Nixon" was first produced at the Round House in 1999, with Edward Gero (Nixon) and Conrad Feininger (Kissinger) as the leads. Both stars have returned, reprising their roles.

Frank Gannon, who was special assistant to Nixon at the time, remembers watching the historic speech on a small television in the White House press office. "The mood was certainly somber, as you might expect," recalls Gannon, who spent the evening packing up his office, as soon-to-be President Gerald Ford and staff would be moving in the next day.

The following morning, Gannon boarded Air Force One and accompanied Nixon to California. For the next three years, Gannon worked with Nixon in San Clemente and helped the former president write his best-selling autobiography, "RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon."

Gannon will appear with historian Robert Dallek, author of "Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power"; Reagan White House official Ken Adelman; and Gero as part of a panel on Nixon and his legacy at Round House on June 1 after the matinee show. Having worked closely with Nixon, Gannon says he was resistant to the idea of "Nixon's Nixon," a show that plays fast and loose with the Nixon story.

Expecting the play to be an "anti-Nixon screed," Gannon says his "hackles were raised in advance."

"Personally I like to see him treated fairly -- not well, just fairly," he says. "He should be treated as an historical personage, the good and the bad, the full story, not just one side of the story."

So what he found in "Nixon's Nixon," an unabashed political satire, surprised him.

"Oh, it's wildly inaccurate and unflattering," Gannon says with a laugh. "But it's also witty and very clever."

"Nixon was very human," he adds. "He had a vulnerable and insecure side to him that people who worked for him got to see. The play captures the human side of him. He's more than just a caricature; he's a multi-dimensional figure."

Dallek said Americans are still interested with Nixon because he was such a complicated character.

"Nixon remains a contradictory figure to us," Dallek says. "He opened up China, brought about a detente with the Soviet Union and established the EPA. And yet, on the other hand, he was brought down by his deeply flawed character. In the end, it's his flaws that make the story so compelling and so tragic."

"NIXON AND HIS LEGACY" PANEL Historian Robert Dallek, memoirist Frank Gannon, Reagan White House official Ken Adelman and actor Edward Gero will discuss Nixon's legacy June 1 after the "Nixon's Nixon" performance at 3. The discussion is free.

Nixon's Nixon Round House Theatre, 4545 East West Hwy., Bethesda. 240-644-1100. Wednesday-June 22. $25-$60. Nixon's Nixon Round House Theatre, 4545 East West Hwy., Bethesda. 240-644-1100. Wednesday-June 22. $25-$60.

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