Seeking the Nixon Behind the Caricature (Play/Broadway)

IN a quiet corner of the bar at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in New York, Frank Langella raised his hands in victory signs, furrowed his brow and shook his jowls violently: the International Symbol for Richard Nixon.

Mr. Langella, one of the most celebrated stage actors of his generation, has tackled both Dracula and Sherlock Holmes; he knows what it means to step into a role that is already cemented in myth. But there may be no caricature as permanently etched in the American imagination as the one he’s playing now.

“Nixon was a great monster for good and bad, a delicious person to caricature,” he said. “The first week of rehearsals all of the actors were doing him, and I finally had to say, ‘You have to stop.’ ”

“Frost/Nixon,” which opens on Broadway Sunday night at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater, is a play about the series of television interviews David Frost conducted in 1977 with Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned from the presidency three years earlier. Mr. Frost paid Nixon $600,000 for the chance to prove he could play hardball and nearly blew it when Nixon swatted away his questions with anecdotes and generalities.

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