How a Former Pali High Teacher is Exploring the Presidency Through Outrageous Drama
By JOHN HARLOW Editor-in-Chief
It was an unlikely stretch that catapulted Mary Rose Woods from relative obscurity, familiar only to Washington insiders as President Richard Nixon’s gatekeeper, into late-night TV comedy bait.
As presidential secretary, she took responsibility for accidentally erasing 18 minutes from her boss’ notorious audiotapes by reaching across her office to answer a phone and accidentally forwarding and wiping the tape.
Watergate investigators who suspected the missing minutes might have revealed how much Nixon knew about the Democrat HQ burglary that eventually brought him down branded this maneuver improbable.
So, is it equally wild a stretch to postulate a repressed love affair between president and secretary that would finally flare up in the last minutes of the presidency, when, as distraught Nixon was deserted by almost everyone but Woods, they find themselves alone at last?
Probably, maybe, yet as Nixon died in 1994 and “Aunt Rose” Woods followed him in 2005, they are not saying.
But for former Palisades Charter High School English teacher, biographer and playwright Dennis Danziger, the idea has proven an irresistible proposition for a dangerous drama, a forbidden romance and character-driven revelation.
And the result? “The Richard Nixon Sex Tapes,” which may be one of the more outrageous retellings in an ambitious 11-play cycle covering the U.S. presidency from Kennedy to Obama—at least until the Democrat-reregistered-as-Green turns his wicked eye on Donald J.
It’s powerfully played. Carrie Madsen, who recently appeared on “The Gilmore Girls” and “Jane the Virgin,” is Woods.
Kevin Brian is a drunken Nixon: He has also played both George Stephanopoulos and Barbara Bush in the cycle.
The director, Mike Thayer, is a globetrotter. He hails from Australia but will soon be directing his first feature, “48 Hours and One Minute,” with Sonia Alexa in Serbia.
Some of the plays are poignant—one chapter is about the effect of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy in Westside schools.
It is no coincidence that Danziger’s wife, half of a Westside power couple if there ever was one, is writer Amy Friedman, a co-founder of POPS (Pain of the Prison System), which aids high school kids whose parents have been jailed or deported.
There is also a portrait of a frail Ronald Reagan, based on Danziger’s real-life encounter with the former Palisadian president taking his daily beach constitutional in the summer of 1999.
Others are more surreal, such as “Trim,” about an incident in May 1993 when, reportedly, Bill Clinton refused to take off from LAX until his hair stylist arrived. (Colorful bunch, them presidents.)
The 40-minute play on Nixon will be produced by the MT Writers Workshop at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theater on Melrose until Friday, Nov. 17.
The next, “Shalom Vietnam,” to open at the Stella Adler, deals with the Asian tragedy.
Why has Danziger, who taught English at Pali High until 2008 before relocating to Venice High, who has written for TV sitcoms such as “Taxi” and “Kate and Allie,” taken on such massive philosophical subject?
To help himself understand, of course, the cost of high politics both on the men (so far) who reach the nation’s highest office and the nation that lives with the consequences.
It is both satire (and the presidency has always been a source of humorous japes as a consolation prize for the losers) and a question more urgently in need of answers than ever.