The personal and the political are freely flowing so far at the Capital Fringe Festival. Roger Catlin reviews the Richard Nixon solo show "Secret Honor," and Amanda Erickson checks in on the semi-real "A Breakup Is Swift."
Those convinced that the current political season must be America’s craziest are forgetting the most Shakespearean of paranoid presidents.
Richard Nixon's fascinating political career has been the subject of dozens of plays and films; among them, the memorable “Secret Honor,” a monologue by Daniel Freed and Arnold Stone made into a 1983 Robert Altman film starring Philip Baker Hall.
At Fringe, Nixon’s crazed, defiant stance in the play is multiplied by the audacity of a seaside British theater company staging it just blocks from the crime (it's in the art gallery Caos on F). As such, Bootcamp Theatre’s “Secret Honor” is an instant highlight of the annual festival.
The simply staged play, directed by Nigel Fairs, stars Steve Scott in a stirring, fearsome and occasionally exhilarating performance as the fallen president, ostensibly reciting a full truth memoir years later through the machine that bedeviled him throughout his term, the tape recorder.
Scott may resemble more of a young Randy Quaid than Nixon, but his widow’s peak and persistent sweat certainly suggest the figure who insisted he wasn’t a crook. As Nixon, Scott rages against a roster of enemies that include Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, East Coast snobs in general and the Kennedy family in particular.
In a political town, the old names evoke a kind of music: Bebe Rebozo, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, Spiro Agnew. And Scott spits them out with deepening bile.
The kaleidoscopic defense of his life, for which he sometimes jumps into the character of his own attorney, is full of dark conspiracies of its own, chiefly that he was from the beginning backed by sinister California businessmen who wanted a third term and an extension of the Vietnam War just to keep money rolling in.
The terrific production is hurt only by its props — an unconvincing Scotch bottle and a puny starting pistol. Even a reel-to-reel recorder would have been more Nixonian.
But everything else about “Silent Honor” — especially its setting —makes it a strong Fringe must-see.
70 minutes. July 12, 14 and 16 at Caos On F, 923 F St. NW.
"A Breakup Is Swift"
What would it look like to have your humiliating breakup play out before an audience? It would look a lot like "A Breakup Is Swift."
The show at the MLK Library downtown echoes an actual split experienced by playwright Clint Bagwell's actual friend. After a particularly grueling separation, said friend wrote down everything uttered; Bagwell made some tweaks to disguise the lovelorns' gender, then turned the experience into a script.
It's obvious -- much of the dialogue feels like something I've said or could have said or heard from someone while falling out of love. There are lines like, "So here's the thing. I don't think that we should see each other anymore." "This isn't the right match." "I'm doing the right thing for both of us" (a classic of this mealy mouthed, mundane genre).
That mumblecore realism is admirable, but limiting. The splitters in question (ably played by Nick Duckworth and Ben Kleymeyer) have known each other for only three weeks. Their breakup touches on big themes -- what makes a pair compatible, when is vulnerability a strength, are we always "acting" in a relationship -- but offers little insight (much like our own breakups often leave us scratching our heads).
Then again, I might need to come back. A set of five actors will cycle through the show over the course of Fringe. The actors I saw will play different parts. Men will be paired with women; women will be paired with women. The hope is that this scrambled casting will illuminate something new in the roles.
I'm not sure the characters are complex enough for this experiment to pay off. But I admit, I'm curious.
50 minutes. July 12, 19, 23 and 24 at MLK Library, 901 G St. NW
IF YOU GO:
Fringe tickets $17, plus one-time purchase of a $7 Fringe button. Available online at www.capitalfringe.org, 866-811-4111 and at Fringe venues.