Unholy Convergence In ‘Frost/Nixon’ at Bay Street

A Tony Award, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle nominee for best play
Wilson Chin’s high-tech set for Bay Street Theater’s production of “Frost/Nixon” includes live cameras and a wall of monitors. Barry Gordin

During a midterm election year dominated by a mercurial president careering between forging and breaking international agreements and relationships, it is fitting that the summer productions at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor are focused on political issues, among them the Cold War and the Red Scare, presidential overreach, and the conflation of populism and demagoguery.

In “Frost/Nixon,” which will begin previews Tuesday and open on June 30, the playwright Peter Morgan, who has engaged politics and history in the film “The Queen” and the Netflix series “The Crown,” focuses on David Frost’s televised interviews with Richard Nixon that were broadcast three years after Nixon’s 1974 resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

“When I saw this show on Broadway 11 years ago, I just loved it,” said Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s artistic director. “While it’s kind of a wonderful boxing match of a play between Frost and Nixon, it’s also about how television and politics relate and a bit of a critique of the media and of how television necessarily oversimplifies everything.” 

After two years away from public life, Nixon granted Frost an exclusive series of interviews in part at the suggestion of his publicist, the legendary Irving (Swifty) Lazar, that by using television he could reach a wide audience and perhaps rehabilitate his reputation. Frost, whose talk show had recently been canceled, was at the time accused of checkbook journalism, as Nixon received $600,000 and a share of profits for the production.

When it premiered in 2007, “Frost/Nixon” was a Tony Award, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle nominee for best play. As Ben Brantley, the New York Times drama critic, wrote, “Television mows down a titan in ‘Frost/Nixon,’ the briskly entertaining new play by Peter Morgan. . . .”

The Bay Street production stars two esteemed actors familiar to East End audiences, Harris Yulin as Nixon and Daniel Gerroll as Frost. Sarna Lapine, whose recent productions include the Broadway revival of “Sunday in the Park With George,” directs.

“At its core, the play is about digging deep into these two guys and what makes them tick,” Mr. Schwartz said. “What’s so wonderful about this show is that it doesn’t take sides. It really tries to honor and explore both of these very flawed but passionate and committed men. It’s very cynical and quite funny.”

“It will be a high-tech production. We will be using a lot of video in the show, and there will be live camerawork and screens all over the set.” While the play centers on its two protagonists, as a 10-actor production it is one of the largest, in terms of the scale of the cast, undertaken by Bay Street during Mr. Schwartz’s five-year tenure. 

In addition to Lazar, among the other historical figures are the journalist Mike Wallace (both played by Stephen Lee Anderson), the historian James Reston Jr. (Christian Conn), and the tennis star Evonne Goolagong (Cecillia Koueth).

Performances will take place Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through July 22, with matinees on July 8 and 15 at 2. The June 30 opening is sold out. Talkback Tuesdays with cast members will follow the performances on July 3, 10, and 17.

Tickets are $40 to $135. A limited number of pay-what-you-can tickets will be available at the box office beginning at 11 a.m. on Wednesday for that day’s 7 p.m. performance. Information about other special deals, including free student tickets, can be found on the theater’s website.

Rehearsals for "Frost/Nixon," which will begin previews on TuesdayBarry Gordin