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Monday, October 15, 2012

Kathryn Erbe in "Checkers" at the Vineyard Theater 10-14-2012

I was fortunate enough to catch the first Sunday matinee of "Checkers," which began previews last Saturday and runs through November 18, 2012. The play, set in 1952, tells the story of then-Senator Richard M. Nixon and his wife Patricia "Pat" Nixon and their struggle with a financial scandal that threatens Nixon's political career, and the events that inspired his famous "Checkers" speech, aimed at dispelling damaging rumors about a "secret" fund and implied financial impropriety. As Pat Nixon supports her husband through this crisis, she reveals her own past hurts and how they have shaped her outlook on life, especially the death of her mom when she was twelve and her effort to smile even through the most difficult times. There's an endearing moment, among others in the play, when Pat is giving out buttons supporting Richard to members of the crowd listening to her husband speaking at a campaign stop. I wish I had been sitting in the first row at this performance, because only audience members sitting in that row were given buttons by Kate herself. Maybe next time. ;) Pat comes to despise the political mudslinging and backstabbing that comes with the territory as her husband stubbornly refuses to succumb to mounting pressure for him to resign from the number 2 slot on the Presidential ticket with General "Ike" Eisenhower in the upcoming election. "I hate politics" becomes her mantra as she herself becomes the target of cruel press coverage and harsh critiques of her appearance, clothes and her ever-present smile, which she reveals to be more and more difficult to maintain, leading to a scene where Pat breaks down and tells Richard how painful the campaign has been for her. The "Checkers" speech, which was televised live on NBC, certainly revived Nixon's flagging political career, but also exposes the Nixons' personal and financial details, which Pat finds utterly humiliating. She's also angry at her husband for lying on TV about her date of birth, when he claimed that his Irish-American wife was born on St. Patrick's Day to make a point about the Irish "never giving up." She scolds him thusly "You never needed to lie. You had the facts." "I will be beside you, but I won't be with you" says Pat to Richard as he begs her to stand by him. Richard then makes, and repeatedly breaks, a promise to never run for political office again. His obsession with becoming President and beating back his enemies takes a heavy toll on his marriage. In the last scene of the play, which runs about 90 minutes with no intermission, a weary Pat Nixon appears onstage, silently and stoically bracing for what is to come as Richard begins yet another quest for the presidency of the USA in the year 1966. The costumes and props were stylish and quite authentic 50's style era chic. Pat Nixon may never have had a mink coat back in the day, but as Mamie Eisenhower says to Ike in one scene, Pat "could make anything look pretty." Especially if she looked liked Kathryn Erbe in real life. :) Anthony LaPaglia as Richard Nixon was outstanding and took command of the stage, and even steps off stage in one scene to confront a heckler in the audience. Robert Stanton, who played Dennis in the LOCI episode "The Third Horseman," plays Herbert Brownell, who had once convinced Senator Nixon to run for the vice presidency with General Eisenhower but now wants Nixon to quit and demands that he make a televised speech explaining about the secret fund to save Ike from political embarrassment. Nixon has the last laugh as he gives the speech of his life and manages to remain on the ticket with Ike after winning overwhelming public support. Television may have helped Nixon but the constant scrutiny of the press and negative coverage and lack of privacy enrage Pat, causing her to rail against TV.
I met with Kate after the play and also briefly met Robert Stanton beforehand to compliment him on his terrific performance and to get an autograph for my Checkers program. Kate was sweet and gracious to me, as always, and she asked how we were and how Alberto was doing since Mom passed away last month. I told her that we were good and that Alberto handled it well when I told him that Mom went to heaven, several days after the funeral. I also gave Kate a Halloween card handmade by Alberto on orange posterboard, which she just loved and said she would show it to her children. Aww!
Before Kate left, I took a couple of pics of her and spoke to her about her appearance that morning on the Today Show and SVU. I told her "We miss Eames, too!" and wished her well with her play and with SVU. She told me she will appear on another episode of SVU this season, so we'll have more Eames to look forward to. Maybe Goren will make a cameo? Hmm. Kate was tired, having had just 3 1/2 hours sleep the night before, and on her way to have dinner with her sister, but stopped to speak to a few more fans before leaving the theater. She told me "I'll see you soon." as we hugged goodbye. What a sweet person she is!

1 comment:

  1. What I never send a comment to your report? Waaah, how embarrassing! I enjoyed the read and the photos very much. I so wish to see Kathryn on stage. Will you make another Checkers visit?