“I was a 26-year-old Army specialist at the White House when (President Richard) Nixon resigned,” said Engelman, who plays Col. Jack Brennan, Nixon’s chief of staff, in the Aiken Community Playhouse production of Frost/Nixon, which opens with a scene of Nixon, played by Bob Rollins, resigning the presidency.
While millions of Americans watched that scene on television, Engelman saw it firsthand.
“It was a real shock, especially for those of us there,” he said.
The months leading up to the resignation were fraught with tension as the country was divided over the presidency, the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal.
“People were either super loyal or hated his guts,” said Engelman of how people viewed Nixon.
There were many protestors at the National Mall every day. Engelman said he wore civilian clothes into work and changed into his uniform once he arrived.
Engelman has been able to relive those emotions and insert them into his characterization of Nixon’s staunchest supporter, who resigned his military commission to be with Nixon.
The play Frost/Nixon brings to the forefront a series of interviews the former president conducted in 1977 with British journalist David Frost.
Portraying the American president with his distinct voice and facial features brought a new set of challenges to actor Rollins.
“I’ve listened to him enough to get a feel of his voice, but I’m not trying to do an impersonation. I recall him extremely well,” said Rollins, who is altering his appearance by adding a hairpiece, bulbous nose prosthetic and a set of teeth created by Dr. Bukk so he’ll look more like the 37th president.
Rollins said the role is one he is looking forward to bringing to the stage.
“When the play (originally) came out, I was extremely fascinated. I thought ‘I’d love to play that role,’ ” he said.
Frost/Nixon will be performed at 8 p.m. Jan. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19 and at 3 p.m. Jan. 13 at Aiken Community Playhouse, 126 Newberry St.
Tickets are $20 for adults, $17 for ages 60 and older, $12 for students and $6 for children younger than 12 years old. For more information, call (803) 648-1438 or visit www.aikencommunityplayhouse.com.