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Theater Review: 'Checkers' -- 2.5 stars

Kathryn Erbe as Pat Nixon and Anthony LaPaglia

Kathryn Erbe as Pat Nixon and Anthony LaPaglia as Richard Nixon in "Checkers" Credit: Kathryn Erbe as Pat Nixon and Anthony LaPaglia as Richard Nixon in "Checkers"

2.5 stars

Just a few years following Peter Morgan's "Frost/ Nixon" - which enjoyed a successful Broadway run and inspired an acclaimed film version - President Nixon has returned to the New York theater scene, though this time as a character in Douglas McGrath's comparatively wimpy 90-minute play "Checkers."

The comedic drama opens in 1966, with Nixon (played by Anthony LaPaglia) living as an attorney in Manhattan. But once the possibility of running again for president comes up, he flashes back to 1952, when he became mired in a serious financial scandal while campaigning as Eisenhower's running mate.

While the bulk of the play observes how Nixon fought to remain in the race despite pressure to leave, the point of the flashback is to show how Nixon had supposedly told his wife Pat (Kathryn Erbe) that he would leave politics for good.

The liveliest portion is lifted directly from the famous "Checkers" speech that Nixon gave on TV defending his expense accounts.

Director Terry Kinney effectively uses projections to allow for quick scene changes. But overall "Checkers," which is unusually sympathetic toward Nixon, is pretty bloodless and bland.

LaPaglia imbues the notorious politician with a dogged fighting spirit.

If you go: "Checkers" plays through Dec. 2 at the Vineyard Theatre. 108 E. 15th St., 212-353-0303,

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