If Nixon were to make one last tape and tell all, what would he say? Plenty of fascinating things, as "'Secret Honor,' Nixon's Last Tape," suggests. (At the Next Move Theatre through March 18.)
This multicolored, fictionalized portrait, starring Philip Baker Hall, shows Nicon making such a tape to clear his name. It confirms the picture of a secretive, hard-drinking, paranoid, and profane President the news media showed us during the Watergate years; a man driven by guilt, a lacerating sense of failure, and an ego that stews over every slight.
It also shows other sides of the man: a Nixon who is stricken at the memory of his wife being spat upon in Venezuela and who desires to live up to his Quaker mother's high moral standards. He surprises us with bursts of humor: "Caling in Redskin plays on the white phone, calling in bombing targets in Cambodia to Kissinger on the red phone at the same time. Now that was FUN!"
The play is a collaboration between self-described "controversial-political playwright" Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, a Department of Justice attorney. Their left-leaning sensibilities come out in the fun they poke at their character: For one so infamous for his Watergate tapes, Nixon is hilariously inept at operting this tape recorder.
This one-man show is a gargantuan role, and Mr. Hall fills it well, zigzagging from boyhood to Watergate hearings, venom to pathos, with perfect ease. With his similar hairline and weary stoop he even looks the part.
Nixon traces his downfall to answering an ad as a young man from the committee of 100, a group of California power brokers who meet a a lush retreat called Bohemian Grove. "They gave me the blueprint for my life." In exchange, he says, "I sold my soul at Bohemian Grove."
The reasons he gives for his predicament are intriguing. Whether they're true or not is another story. Bear in mind that this is historical fiction. Facts and fiction are cooked up together, and only John Dean can taste the difference. But even those who know little about the Watergate imbroglio will appreciate this as well-crafted, finely directed (by Robert Harders) look at a complex President during an even more complex time in history.