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New York Theater

Nixon's Nixon

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Get out the knives. Nixon's Nixon, a slash-and-run play about Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, is nasty, brutish, and short (80 minutes, no intermission). MCC's 10th-anniversary production of Russell Lees' tragicomedy is, if anything, more caustic, sour, and mesmerizing than it was originally.

The two-hander pits a self-pitying, paranoid, scrappy, vulgar Nixon against a self-aggrandizing, condescending Kissinger. It's Aug. 7, 1974, the night before the president's resignation. Worrying about what history will make of him, the disgraced Nixon fears being "flung out on the asphalt of obscurity." Kissinger, determined to keep his job as secretary of state under the succeeding Ford administration, only pretends to soothe and coddle his boss. He has no sympathy for the fallen leader.

Nor do we. Neither sentiment nor occasional laughs can disguise the frightening fact that a still power-hungry Kissinger is advising a current president as stubborn and uncomprehending, though not as sharp, as Nixon. When the play's Kissinger quotes Karl Marx's warning that "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce," we don't get past the tragedy part.

Wading through muck of their own making, Nixon and Kissinger play-act scenes from past encounters with the likes of Mao and Brezhnev, highlighted by Brian H. Kim's background projections. They remember Vietnam, Cambodia, Kent State, and Allende, eventually concocting a doomsday scenario that just might make the American people fear letting them go.

Neither Gerry Bamman as Nixon nor Steve Mellor as Kissinger attempts an exact physical reproduction, relying instead on suggestion. Bamman is all stiffness, hysteria, and cunning, while the elegant Mellor has grit-your-teeth patience amidst outbursts that reveal his true disdain. This is tour de force acting; they go at each other like boxers. Under Jim Simpson's slashing direction, they create the powerful dance of death that underpins their characters' perfidy.

Presented by MCC Theater

at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., NYC.

Oct. 4-28. Through Oct. 7: Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8 and 2 p.m. Oct. 8-28: Tue. and Wed., 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun., 2 p.m.

(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.

Casting by Telsey + Company.

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