BRATTLEBORO — Imagine the meeting between President Richard M. Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Aug. 7, 1974, the night before Nixon resigned, particularly as the discussion was lubricated with more and more alcohol.
Russell Lees did just that in his 1996 two-person satirical comedy “Nixon’s Nixon,” and it isn’t pretty — but it sure is funny.
Bitingly funny in the Shoot the Moon Theater Company production that opened last weekend and continues this weekend at the Hooker-Dunham Theater, thanks much to two over the top yet penetrating performances. The Brattleboro community theater, directed by Josh Moyse, has made a specialty of producing its own adaptations and unusual but timely plays. This certainly filled the latter bill.
Kissinger enters the Oval Office finding Nixon already somewhat inebriated and reluctantly joins him. Nixon is feeling sorry for himself in a mix of confessions and denials. Kissinger’s purpose initially seems to be to convince the still-reluctant Nixon to resign. The president’s staff has even written the resignation letter.
As Kissinger succumbs more and more to the alcohol, his real purpose emerges. With Nixon’s departure, he hopes to retain, even enlarge his power. Nixon, canny despite the booze, realizes this and taunts Kissinger with the idea that Gerald Ford, when president, will replace Kissinger with Gen. Alexander Haig, ending his days of power.
Nixon clearly enjoys his moment of dominance over Kissinger, who retaliates by reminding Nixon that he will be impeached – and convicted. This cat and mouse game continues as these two incredibly powerful yet personally pathetic men joust to a certain doom.
“Ambitious people like us, Henry, once we reach our goal, we should just blow our brains out,” Nixon says, summing it up, lamenting, “You don’t know when to kill yourself until it’s too late. By the time you figure it out, the moment has passed.”
“Nixon’s Nixon” like the historical events it portrays is black comedy, and the Shoot the Moon production, directed by Moyse, enjoyed it thoroughly at Saturday’s performance. Although neither actor really looked like their characters, they soon had the audience believing,
Colin Grube’s Nixon at first seemed a bit brash, but after all he was drunk. Gradually, Grube revealed layer after layer with each of Nixon’s revelations. Elias Burgess played Kissinger with an accent that was hauntingly close to the original, and he also let the secretary’s Machiavellian motivations escape gradually and unexpectedly.
Together, it was the battle of the titans — more and more pathetic men as the tale unfolded. It was terribly funny, yet unnerving when the parallels to today became obvious.