Dykstra/Reston: A Somewhat Less Intense Interview at Canstage

james reston jr. (right) with richard nixon (center)

I felt very lucky to be able to attend an interview last night at the Canadian Stage Company where Frost/Nixon director Ted Dykstra asked historian James Reston Jr., on which the character “Jim Reston” in the play is based, a series of very pertinent questions dealing with themes of the play.

Reston is extremely humble about his involvement in the Frost/Nixon interviews, despite the fact that Morgan portrays him as the behind-the-scenes hero of the play. It is easy to see that beyond being extremely intelligent and perceptive, he is also warm and generous. Reston told this story about how he wrote a manuscript about his experiences with the interviews in the initial aftermath, but then David Frost told him that he was planning to publish the exclusive “tell-all” book, and so humbly, Reston put his manuscript away and in time, he actually forgot about it.

A few years ago, Peter Morgan wrote a letter to Reston expressing interest in writing a play about the interviews, and said that David Frost suggested he get in touch with him if he wanted some additional resources. That was when Reston remembered the manuscript that he had written thirty years before, and he promptly found it, and without rereading it, sent it to Morgan, who used it as the prime source for his play. This play, Frost/Nixon, was initially produced in the small Donmar Warehouse Theatre in London, then moved to the West End, then to Broadway, and now it is here at the Canadian Stage Company in Toronto. Reston has since published his manuscript The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews, and it has been described as “Gripping” by the Washington Post.

Reston volunteered his time to go into the initial rehearsals of the Donmar production and speak to the actors about his experiences with the interviews. When he heard that the Canadian Stage Company was producing the show, he sent Ted Dykstra a package and offered to speak to him at length, as well as working closely with Ari Cohen, who plays Jim Reston in the show. He told the small audience who gathered upstairs at the Bluma Appel that the production he had seen there the night before was “as good, if not better, than any of the other five productions of Frost/Nixon he has seen” (including the West End version and the Broadway version).

I was struck and touched by how eager James Reston Jr. is to help facilitate this artistic reworking of his manuscript, and such a monumental time in his life. I was also so impressed and proud that it was clear from the discussion that Ted Dykstra is just as perceptive and just as intelligent and generous and open as Reston. And he’s so funny. For me, Ted Dykstra represents my idyllic portrait of what Canadian theatre should be and, I hope, will be. He is creative, multitalented, filled with enthusiasm and open to new ideas; and he is so genuine. He thinks about things, about ideas, and he has interesting opinions that he’s not too afraid to express. He is compassionate to people and extremely approachable. He is brave, and open and generous. I feel very blessed to have him working in this city and this country.

Watching James Reston Jr. and Ted Dykstra share their knowledge and experiences was not as gripping as watching David Storch and Len Cariou battle it out onstage, but it was in some ways even more fascinating. I loved the bridge that had been created to connect Canada to the United States and to Britain through this play because I think the artists in each of these countries have a similar hope for the future, politically and artistically. Personally, right now, my hope hinges on Dykstra.

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