Song & Stage

Bay Street Theater Gets Political with ‘Frost/Nixon’ Production

Director Sarna Lapine shares her thoughts on the project.

Bay Street Theater follows up on the successful world premiere of Fellow Travelers with Frost/Nixon, written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Netflix’s The Crown) and directed by Sarna Lapine. The production runs June 26–July 22.

Frost/Nixon thoroughly examines the landmark series of interviews between British television host David Frost and former President Richard Nixon that took place three years after Nixon resigned without an admission of guilt. With the greatest political scandal in American history leaving so many unanswered questions, a battle of wits ensues as Frost tries to draw out a confession while Nixon dodges questions and embarrasses his interviewer. Frost/Nixon tells a riveting story surrounding the collision of politics and the media, with many parallels to today’s political climate.

Daniel Gerroll, Sarna Lapine, Harris Yulin, Photo: Barry Gordin
Daniel Gerroll (Frost), Director Sarna Lapine, Harris Yulin (Nixon), Photo: Barry Gordin

While preparing to direct this play, Lapine researched the similarities between the Nixon and Trump presidencies, and found a staggering amount of connections. “Every morning when I read the news, there’s parallel language. The language of justice is a very present part of our lives, like with Watergate,” she says. “I think what Nixon did tarnished the office of President but, up until now, we had yet to face someone that’s gone further than he did.”

On the surface, Morgan’s play appears to have a clear hero and villain, but in actuality, he doesn’t choose sides. According to Lapine, “It humanized Nixon for me. It taught me to view him as a complicated person and President.” She continues, “He was a lifelong civil servant, but left office in disgrace…It’s interesting to hear Nixon’s own words describe how he let down the American people. He really cared about that.”

Lapine hasn’t seen the Broadway rendition of Frost/Nixon, for fear it might influence her own adaptation. Instead, she and her team have chosen to focus on the text of the play, blending the language found in both the American and British scripts. Bay Street’s thrust stage plays to Lapine’s strengths, allowing her to experiment with perspective and create a more cinematic point of view and sense of intimacy with the audience. “I really love working on a thrust. I’m at home here,” she notes. The set features a wall of televisions to drive home Lapine’s view that, “Television is an important character in the story.”

Set prototype showing the wall of TV screens, Photo: Barry Gordin
Set prototype showing the wall of TV screens, Photo: Barry Gordin

Lapine’s directing credits include the critically acclaimed Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, Photograph 51 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre and several concerts for the L.A. Philharmonic. Upcoming productions include a new musical by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill for Goodspeed Musicals titled You Are Here, Noises Off at Two Rivers, The Rape of Lucretia for Boston Lyric Opera and Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Little Women for Primary Stages.

A director is only as good as the cast she’s directing, and Lapine couldn’t be happier with hers—a surprisingly comedic bunch for such a serious play. “I owe a lot to the cast. I’m incredibly fortunate in a lot of ways: they tell me what they need, they know the material and they’re steeped in the time period.” For her, one of the most rewarding aspects of directing is getting to work with a diverse group of talented people, including the actors, designers and writers.

'Frost/Nixon' Cast and director Sarna Lapine, Photo: Barry Gordin
‘Frost/Nixon’ Cast and Director Sarna Lapine, Photo: Barry Gordin

Frost is portrayed by Daniel Gerroll, one of Bay Street’s most seasoned actors, previously performing in Dissonance and Dinner. He also directed Bacchanalia, The Lover and Darwin in Malibu. He has appeared on Broadway in Plenty, High Society and Enchanted April. His film credits include Chariots of Fire, Big Business and Still Alice.

Bridgehamptonite Harris Yulin plays the complex role of Nixon. His Broadway plays include, Hedda Gabler, The Visit, The Diary of Anne Frank and Watch on the Rhine. He has directed several productions, including Men’s Lives, written by the late Joe Pintauro, and Candida, featuring the great Stanley Holloway.

Frost/Nixon previews begin at Bay Street Theater (1 Bay Street, Sag Harbor) on Tuesday, June 26 with a “Pay What You Can” performance. Opening night is Saturday, June 30 at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by visiting baystreet.org or calling 631-725-9500

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