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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Sunday, 30 November 2008 19:00|
The night the world changed, I sat in the Neptune Theatre watching an unforgettable performance of Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon.
I was on a business trip to Halifax, and after four solid hours of CNN in my hotel room, I couldn't take it anymore. I’d been blown away by an excellent rendition of The Producers while visiting the city last May, so I decided to call up the Neptune and request the cheapest seats possible for that night’s production of Frost/Nixon.
I made my way to the theatre on foot. Passing pub after pub, widescreen HD televisions mounted on brick walls flashed Obama and McCain's faces out at me through misty windowpanes. Even on the darkened streets of that eastern Canadian port town, the American election loomed large; inhumanly so.
I couldn't bear the thought of a McCain victory. It would be the final kick in the face to a generation whose hero had blown out his brains above a garage in Seattle long before things even got bad; a generation for whom things had only ever gotten worse, never better.
My request for the cheapest seat possible had landed me in the top row of the balcony in May, but upon arriving at the theatre that fateful November evening, I found myself holding a ticket that reserved a seat in the front row. It was all the better to help me hide from the politics of the day by losing myself in the politics of the past.
Frost/Nixon recreates the legendary 1977 television interview between disgraced American President Richard Nixon and British pop culture personality David Frost. A team of journalists, led by Frost, set out, against all odds, to force a stonewalling Nixon into acknowledging the criminal wrongdoings he was never forced to publicly admit to thanks to Gerald Ford's unconditional pardon for any crimes committed while president.
It was just the type of story I needed that evening. I knew that Nixon - Nixon the antagonist, Nixon the monster - would eventually crumble. The lowly David-like journalist would conquer the republican Goliath. Even if McCain won that evening, I had the comfortable certainty of knowing that Nixon would most definitely loose.
Attending the play was meant to be a simple experience, just me biding my time until the winner of the election was announced, but something happened in the latter half of the play, when a drunken Nixon, played by Jim Mezon, called up Clive Walton's David Frost. Until that scene, Mezon’s spot on performance had brought to life the Nixon I was expecting - the despicable politician, the embodiment of conservative self-righteousness, utilizing every resource available to convince both the interviewer and himself of his own innocence - but during the phone call scene, everything changed. The walls dropped, and the lies disappeared. I saw Nixon, for the first time, not as a monster, but a man, a hopelessly pathetic loser, forever the underdog. The man who bemoaned "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore" to an unforgiving media in the early sixties was suddenly there on stage. And I found myself weeping for him.
Weeping for the man Hunter Thompson epitomized as the ultimate antagonist. Weeping for the man Matt Groaning characterized in Futurama as continuing to commit horrendous deeds long into the future of mankind. I was weeping for him, because, as easy as it is to turn people into caricatures and cartoon villains, no one, not even Nixon, is a monster.
Frost/Nixon captures a monumental historical moment. Many pinpoint the interview as the exact point in time where, for better or worse, entertainment and news media forever merged. Yet despite the overwhelming weight of history, Morgan’s writing and the Neptune’s cast and crew managed to cut through the hugeness of it all to depict a startlingly complex and passionately human tale.
It was unforgettable performance on all accounts.
Later that evening, back in my hotel room, I watched Obama give his victory speech in Chicago. He spoke, and my heart was full of hope. Again there were tears in my eyes, but I did not look at the man on stage as an angel sent from heaven to rescue me of from the horrors of Bush's America. Nor did I look at him as a symbol of change, nor an idol to be worshipped. Thanks to Frost/Nixon, I looked at him as a man. No more, no less.
Obama may indeed make the world a better place, but at the end of the day, he like Nixon, will never transcend his humanity. There are no monsters, and no idols. We create these things in our minds by simplifying and condensing, censoring and deleting. In reality, there are just people, and the infinite complexity that entails.
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