Peter Morgan’s play, “Frost/Nixon,” currently at the Colonial Theatre, vividly takes you back to the years immediately after Nixon resigned in disgrace.

This month of change in Washington is a reminder that our national sport is politics, an obsession that starts at the top, where every day seems to bring a new drama for whoever occupies the White House.

Richard Nixon, of course, created more drama just about any president in history thanks to his direct involvement in the Watergate scandal.

THEATER REVIEW FROST/NIXON through Feb. 8 at the Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston St., Boston. Tickets:  $35-$81. Call 800-982-2787, or visit www. broadwayacross
america.com

Peter Morgan’s play, “Frost/Nixon,” currently at the Colonial Theatre, vividly takes you back to the years immediately after Nixon resigned in disgrace. The scene is a home in sunny Southern California, where the 37th president is looking to rehabilitate his image and fatten his wallet by agreeing to a series of televised interviews in 1977 with British talk-show host David Frost.

The play has been a hit both in London, where it debuted in 2006 and later on Broadway, picking up raves and awards on both sides of the pond. And in December, it spawned an Academy Award-nominated film directed by Ron Howard.

The play confirms that the rituals and honors of the position serve to obscure the fact that the men in the Oval Office are sometimes ordinary, and even more often flawed, like the legendary heroes of ancient Greek tragedy – no one more so than Richard Milhous Nixon. A brilliant man who won significant victories in foreign relations, including the 1972 arms treaty with the Soviet Union and the first overtures to China, Nixon escalated the Vietnam War and bombed Cambodia, which made him hugely unpopular in many circles. However, it was the Watergate break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee, a criminal act which Nixon knew about and tried to cover up, that extinguished his presidency.

Stacy Keach, one of the most accomplished American actors (Mike Hammer on TV), plays Nixon for the man’s primal qualities. Nixon could barely conceal his personality tics, in contrast to his political genius and ability to manipulate others. Keach is a stocky man, heavier than Nixon, but the actor has studied the former President’s posture, his manner of lowering his head and thrusting with his chin, not to mention the goofy gestures of victory, and inappropriate joking. Frank Langella, who played Nixon in London and New York, as well as the film, brought out more of the reptilian quality of the man, coiled and ready to strike despite his pretended affability, yet Keach’s gutter-appeal brings out alternate aspects of the man’s complex personality.

The English actor, Alan Cox, portrays Frost as a nail-biter, worried about his career, which has hit a rough patch. His physical contrast to Keach is extreme. Cox is a slim, small-boned, light-haired man who seems to dance around his adversary by the end. And each man has much to win or lose which ups the suspense. Director Michael Grandage has staged a swift and taut progression to the final moments of Nixon’s confession.

The sequence of events is narrated by several of the other people involved: Frost’s team of researchers; Nixon’s chief of staff, Jack Brennan (Ted Koch); Nixon’s Hollywood agent, Swifty Lazar (former American Repertory Theater actor Stephen Rowe) who negotiates the $600,000 payment Nixon receives for the interview; and Mike Wallace (also Rowe), on the television screen at the rear of the stage.

The action is pushed by a series of televised images, and bits of the interviews projected out to us, as if we were the 1977 home audience. The final close-up of Keach as Nixon, his face a study in panic, fear, and a sort of relief – eyes drooping, mouth curled to the side, those jowls even lower than remembered –forms a theatrical portrait worthy of the American history books.

The Patriot Ledger