BWW Review: Beau Willimon's THE PARISIAN WOMAN Has Uma Thurman Seeking Pleasure and Power in Trump's Washington
Donald Trump hadn't even won his first Republican primary when Henri Becque's comedy of sexual liberation, LA PARISIENNE, created such an uproar at its 1895 Paris premiere. But while the current president never makes an appearance in Beau Willimon's new version of the story, The Parisian Woman, the current White House resident is certainly on the tip of everyone's tongue.
The first lines of dialogue quickly lead to a Twitter joke. Perfunctory references to fake news, locker room talk and people taking on jobs they're not prepared for score their laughs without fulfilling the obligation of being particularly funny.
These are all new additions to the piece, which premiered at South Coast Repertory in 2013. Willimon has noted that revisions he made after the 2016 election changed the work from being an adaptation to simply being inspired by Becque's controversial commentary.
Which is a shame, because much of the play is quite clever and interesting, but the peripheral Trump references keep upstaging the intrigue of the plot's main thrust.
The lack of a show curtain means early arrivals can savor the sight of the tastefully furnished Washington DC townhouse provided by designer Derek McLane. There resides Tom, a tax attorney who keeps his well-to-do clients from paying any. With the help of these connections, Tom has found himself on the short list for a judgeship because of the administration's preference for someone outside the box. Though he opposes Trump on every issue, he's willing to play ball with Republicans and then make decisions with his liberal conscience once he gets the gig.
Tom has an open marriage with Chloe, though Chloe's lover Peter, a wealthy banker who's going through a divorce, wants exclusive rights to her extramarital favors. She's bored with the smitten fellow, but keeps him around hoping that his influence will help Tom win the appointment.
But to ensure success, she also sets out to curry favor with Jeanette, a Republican whose social skills and fundraising success has earned her a nomination as Chair of the Federal Reserve. Jeanette's daughter Rebecca became a target for conservative pundits when her Harvard Law graduation speech was regarded as a criticism of the president, and she's now planning the opening stages of her left-wing political career.
Sex and blackmail take center stage as Chloe tries to ensure Tom's success. When confronted as to why she doesn't put her intelligence and skills to use for good works, leaving something positive for the world when she's gone, Chloe explains that the enjoyment of pleasure and beauty is all she wants from life, and Tom's success is what gives her the leisure time to enjoy more of it.
On paper, The Parisian Woman works pretty well. On the stage of the Hudson Theatre, it's generally a bore, due primarily to the exceedingly bland performance of Uma Thurman as Chloe. Though playing a woman with hedonistic desires and an intellect that sets her two steps ahead of most of the DC players around her, Thurman's uncomplicated performance communicates little beyond surface earnestness. Willimon provides her with good many dry observations and witty remarks that hardly register because the star's subtext-barren readings sap them of their bite.
Josh Lucas is equally uninspired as Tom, though his role of "the husband" is more functional than fleshed-out. The two have no romantic or sexual chemistry - or onstage connection of any kind - and a long confrontational scene between them just passionlessly lays there, despite the two having the advantage of being directed by Pam MacKinnon, one of the best around for sharpening up conflicts.
As Peter, Martin Csokas is so spineless, needy and borderline foppish that Chloe should receive a charitable tax deduction for sleeping with him.
Phillipa Soo does fine work as Rebecca, though this is a play where her character's youthful idealism exists mostly to set up reactions from her jaded elders.
And then there's the wonderful Blair Brown, full of textured insight and engaging warmth as Jeanette, the savvy game-player who is confident that her party can contain the lunacy of the commander-in-chief and keep the country moving forward. If the play could be revised again so that she could play Chloe, The Parisian Woman would be a heck of a lot more interesting.