Richard Nixon did not resign in 1974, and instead was tried in the United States Senate, are the conceits of playwright George Bugatti’s uproarious, inventive and factual Watergate fantasia, Trial on the Potomac: The Impeachment of Richard Nixon. Based on Nixon lawyer Geoff Shepard’s 2015 book The Real Watergate Scandal, Mr. Bugatti crafts a wild scenario, meshing Allen Drury’s political intrigue with Jules Feiffer’s absurdism. Structured as punchy short scenes, this snappy 90-minute play exhibits Bugatti’s jokey dialogue which breezily imparts requisite information.
The show’s magnetic anchor is legendary impressionist Rich Little, belatedly making his New York stage debut in the role of Richard Nixon. Flashing his fingers in V for Victory, grinning and waving, the vigorous Mr. Little makes his triumphant entrance onto the Senate floor to the audience’s delight. Little has been a ubiquitous show business presence since his breakthrough on Judy Garland’s 1960’s television variety show and his numerous The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson appearances. Nixon has long been in his repertoire of vocally and physically accurate celebrity replications. Here, he fuses that talent with conveying dramatic depth, resulting in a sterling characterization. A hilarious highlight of his performance, showcasing his superior comic timing is a takeoff of Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s take down of Vice President Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy…”
Looking like Clark Kent, the animated Nick Mauldin as Geoff Shephard is outstanding with his hyper earnestness and is one of the 13 other ensemble members who are all equal to Little in impact. Kelsea Lea Jones is a plucky Diane Sawyer, Richard Wingert does a neat Ted Kennedy while swilling scotch from a bottle, Victor Colicchio brings The Sopranos-style menace to his Judge John Sirica and Tom Gregory’s Peter Rodino is wonderfully over the top. John Ramaine, Paul Caliendo, James Gavin, Matthew Hammond, Chris Lazzaro, Chris Rojas, Troy Sill and Lou Vitulli all offer sparkling recreations of other real-life personages.
In addition to achieving striking performances from the cast, director Josh Iacovelli’s admirable physical staging is akin to that of the proverbial traffic conductor. The 15 actors are precisely positioned on the stage as the action seamlessly and swiftly shifts from different areas, representing various locales. Mr. Iacovelli’s scenic design is a shrewd assemblage of wood office furniture strategically placed on a blue carpet with stars, enhanced by his cool projection design. Iacovelli masterfully renders Bugatti’s vison for the theater with the dimension of spectacle.
Lighting designer John Lant’s often murky hues emit vintage and atmospheric texture, most particularly when a shadowy trenchcoated figure periodically pops up to drop off crucial files. Composer Steve Rawlins and Bugatti’s original score ranges from boisterous to suitably eerie and is well realized by Ray Shilke’s bracing sound design. Jennie West’s costume design is stylishly straightforward but includes lavish silk dressing gowns for a fun sight gag.
Trial on the Potomac: The Impeachment of Richard Nixon is mirthfully provocative entertainment and an opportunity to experience the grandeur of Rich Little.
Trial on the Potomac: The Impeachment of Richard Nixon (through September 4, 2021)
Theater at Saint Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, in Manhattan,
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit The Theatre Website
Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission