Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Trial on the Potomac starring Rich Little as Richard Nixon

Rich Little as Richard Nixon. Photo: Steve Bergman

Trial on the Potomac
By George Bugatti
Directed by Josh Iacovelli
Theater at St. Clement's
Through Sept. 4, 2021

By Lauren Yarger

We all remember the scandal: Richard Nixon left the White House in disgrace following investigative reports by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and the famous Watergate hearings that exposed corruption and crimes by the president's re-election campaign.

But what if it didn't happen that way?

That is the premise of Trial on the Potomac: The Impeachment of Richard Nixon, a new play by George Bugatti based on Geoff Shepard's book, "The Real Watergate Scandal," and starring famous impressionist Rich Little as "Tricky Dicky." 

What if Nixon wasn't all that tricky, however, but was set up by John Dean (Matthew Hammond) and others who had the press in their pockets and orchestrated the scandalous events to cover up their misdoings and put Sen. Ted Kennedy (Richard Wingert) in power?

So in this alternate explanation of history, instead of delivering the famous announcement of his resignation from office, Nixon shocks CBS reporter Diane Sawyer (Kelsey Lea Jones) and the nation by saying he isn't going anywhere and that he will fight the charges.

Bring on an imagined September 1974 impeachment trial presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Berger (a delightfully acerbic Paul Caliendo) and prosecuted by Peter Rodino (Tom Gregory) and Phil Lacovara (Chris Lazzaro). 

Nixon's defense is headed by James St. Clair (a savvy Troy Sill) and overzealous newbie Geoff Shepard (Nick Mauldin) who, aided by a deepthroat-like source, follow a trail of memos and secretly taped conversations that throw the burden of suspicion of wrong doing and coverup on Dean, Watergate burglar John Liddy (John Ramain), former Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman (Lou Vitulli) and Watergate trial Judge John Sirica (Victor Colicchio) among others. To add credibility to the play,  the real Geoff Shepard, who worked as a lawyer in the Nixon White House, serves as technical consultant. His books are available for purchase in the lobby and the day I attended, he was available to sign.

Director Josh Iacovelli, who also designs the set,  creates the feeling that the audience (nicely socially distanced and wearing masks) are the Senator jurors attending the trial and skillfully takes us through time jumps in presentation. We travel with ease from attending the trial itself to conversation flashbacks to freeze frames, where some characters stop the action to express thoughts directly to the audience. Some movements of the actors seem halted and unnatural in other places, however.

A circle of presidential stars decorates the stage and video projections (designed by Bugatti/Mynerdywebguy) provide backdrop and setting information. Graphics are by Irvin Productions; Sound Design is by INS & OUTS , Ray Schilke. At the end of the performance, the audience is given ballots and asked to decide whether Nixon was guilty or not. The votes are tabulated and posted on the show's website. As of this writing, no audience has cast the 67 votes it would have taken to convict Nixon and remove him from office.

The play, originally scheduled, for May of 2020 was postponed due to Covid. It could use a few cuts. The "who's who"  which includes 14 men might be a little difficult to follow for those who don't remember the cast of characters when television was preempted for the lengthy Watergate hearings and the ensuing news coverage which made Dean, Liddy, Haldeman, etc. household names. Some minor roles could be eliminated and some of the action condensed. Some of the dialogue concerning manufactured news and stolen elections sounds as though it could have been taken from recent news, however, giving us an uneasy feeling that some things never change..... The play clocks in at 90 minutes with no intermission.

Trial on the Potomac marks Little's New York Stage debut.  Little, the man of more than 200 voices, has been doing impressions of Hollywood stars and other celebrities for decades. He has a voice for every administration, including Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes and Donald Trump. In January 2010, the Canadian native became a United States citizen and during his swearing-in ceremony, the Judge asked Little to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance" as John Wayne and he did.

Confession: I was a bit disappointed that Nixon doesn't have more stage time as Little was a draw and I would have liked to see more of him. Here's an idea for Little's next New York stage show: a one-man play incorporating many of the voices and characterizations he does to such perfection. I'm there!

More information:
Bugatti has authored numerous musical reviews (The Wonderful Wizard of Song: The Music of Harold Arlen). Trial on the Potomac is his first play.

Trial on the Potomac plays at Theatre at St Clement's, 423 W 46th St., NYC
Wednesday at 5 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 7 pm. Matinees Saturday at 1 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets:  $78.50 - $98.50 at trialonthepotomac.com

Additional Casting:
James Gavin as Leon Jaworski; Chris Rojas as James Flug


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Some language

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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