‘Art imitating life’

‘Frost/Nixon’ to open at The Legion Theatre Friday

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Preparing to take part in a battle of wits in “Frost/Nixon,” Kip Henderson  will transform into his “most challenging” role thus far — the 37th U.S. president.

Presented by The Pumphouse Players, the Peter Morgan play will open Friday at 8 p.m. at The Legion Theatre, 114 W. Main St. in Cartersville

“I submitted ‘Frost/Nixon’ to the play reading committee over a year ago for consideration,” said Henderson, whose performing career spans nearly four decades. “I felt this would be a great show and very poignant to what's going on in the world today. When I first saw the movie, I thought, ‘This would be a fantastic show to put on the stage here.’

“As far as portraying President [Richard] Nixon, I was 6 years old when Nixon resigned but I remember the time frame distinctly; it was a piece of history that I and many others actually lived through. To have the opportunity to portray a piece of history is truly art imitating life and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. How could I possibly pass that up?”

Based on interviews between British TV personality David Frost and Nixon, the play is a dramatization of the real-life dialogues that transpired in 1977 following the Watergate scandal that resulted in the end of the latter’s presidency.

“It's one thing to portray a fictional character, it's another thing altogether to portray an actual historical figure. Especially one that lived in your lifetime,” Henderson said. “There are certain expectations on this role as many remember seeing Nixon on their televisions and lived through this moment in time.

“I spent a lot of time researching the former president, his achievements, his shortcomings, his personality; everything from how he spoke to the way he shook hands, he was a fascinating individual. I even found all the original interviews with Sir David Frost and spent hours watching them. While I would love to say that I've spent the last eight months in preparation for the role, in reality this role has been in my memory and subconscious almost all my life. I'm excited and honored to be a part of this production.”

Following the play’s opening performance, “Frost/Nixon will continue March 23, 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. and March 24 at 3 p.m.

Along with Henderson, the historical drama’s cast will feature Parker Patzke as Frost; Tom Owens as narrator Jim Reston; David Dundee as Bob Zelnick; Bob Gossman as Jack Brennan; Andrew Tucker as John Birt; John Katrek as Irving “Swifty” Lazar; Ashleigh Woodall as Caroline Cushing; and ensemble players Porshia Carter, Duane Ellis and Fredrick Kittle.

“The play starts with the narrator, author and educator James Reston, watching Nixon’s resignation speech to the nation, and farewell address to his staff, and voicing his anger that by resigning, and subsequently receiving a full pardon from Gerald Ford, Nixon avoided the closure that impeachment or trial would have brought to the country,” said the PHP play’s director, Suzanne Husting. “We see also, at the same time, a TV interviewer/comedian/commentator, David Frost, watching these proceedings from a small news station in Australia, to which he has been relegated 10 years after his initial fame as part of the British Invasion of culture and humor in the mid-60s.

“But it’s the mid-70s now and things have changed for him and for President Nixon. The interviews appear as a toe-to-toe — or head-to-head — match of two one-time heavyweights battling their way back to the top. For Frost, it’s celebrity; for Nixon, it’s history. For both, its legacy and esteem waiting to be recaptured.”

Along with entertaining its patrons with “Frost/Nixon,” the PHP also hopes the play will make an impact with Metropolitan Atlanta Theater Award judges. As one of the theater group’s submissions for the MAT Awards — which recognize plays and individual performances in community and nonunion professional theater — “Frost/Nixon” will be evaluated in various categories in hopes of being nominated for various accolades. Nominees garnering the highest marks will be deemed the winners.

“I believe the play was selected as one of our MAT Award entries — the other is the upcoming musical ‘Little Women’ in May — in that it is challenging, both for the actors and for the audience,” Husting said. “I’ve got to say, it is challenging for the director and crew as well. … It is true, with these awards, that simply to be nominated is a huge honor. It means your production was among the highest rated in the metro-performing area for the year.

“Speaking as a one-time recipient of Best Actress in a Major Supporting Role by the MAT Awards, I have to say it’s true that simply to be nominated is wonderful. To win is an unbelievable experience.”

Tickets for “Frost/Nixon” are $18 for general admission. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://pumphouseplayers.com or call 770-387-2610.