Magazine article Variety

Checkers

Magazine article Variety

Checkers

Article excerpt

LEGIT OFF BROADWAY

Checkers

Vineyard Theater; 135 seats; $75 top

If we must have a play about Richsird and Pat Nixon, then Douglas McGrath makes a damned good job of it in "Checkers." TV pros Anthony LaPaglia ("Without a Trace") and Kathryn Erbe ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent") are tailor-made for their roles in this biodrama, which views Nixon's famous speech as the ing moment of his marriage and the turning point of his career. More character study than political play, "Checkers" lacks heft, but; it builds a solid case for Nixon as a natural-born political animal who paid for the Faustian bargain he struck to achieve his ambitions.

LaPaglia does it right. When the play opens - in 1966, as the GOP is narrowing its hunt for a promising presidential candidate to run in 1968 - Nixon's life seems pretty normal. He's left California, having lost his last two elections, including the stalce-in-the-heart loss to JFK in 1960. He's living quietly in New York with Pat (Kathryn Erbe) and the girls, retired from politics, but still a force in the party.

And that's the way that LaPaglia plays him - a little bored, but perfectly normal. Pleased to see wife and two young daughters pily adjusted to life in New York. So mellow, he's seriously considering Pat's req jest for a weekend nome in the country because he wants her to have a garden again - and because "all the big shots do it."

And there it is - that hint of paranoia, that revealing show of wounded feelings at being even mocked LaPaglia arrives at that state of paranoia by stealth. A few suspicious looks from under a beetled brow. The concave chest, tlie back hunched as if in anticipation of a blow.

When Pat mentions sharing the elevator with the Rockefellers and feeling impressed to be living in same building with social royalty, Nixon quickly cuts back: "Several floors below them, naturally. I'm sure they took note of that."

And when Pat goes on to say she sensed "disapproval" of her taste in art from Mrs. Rockefeller, Nixon's back gees up. Has his wife been dissed? He doesn't actually come out and say so, but LaPaglia hints at it, and he's an actor who is very good at hinting.

Nixon is protective of Pat for good reason: She's sweet, shy, delicate and easily crushed. not a hint of condescension this oretty, fragile creature from Erbe, who makes it clear that Pat's wifely duty is to humanize her ambitious husband. As seen here, they're the ideal politicai couple. She gives him heiirt; he gives her backbone.

If Fat is the good angel who civilizes her husband, Murray Chotiner, Nixon's chief political adviser and a ruthless bastard in Lewis J. …

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