Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on Uma Thurman, Phillipa Soo, and More in THE PARISIAN WOMAN
The Parisian Woman, the electrifying new play by "House of Cards" creator Beau Willimon, directed by Tony Award winner Pam MacKinnon (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park), starring Academy Award nominee Uma Thurman in her Broadway debut, opens on Broadway tonight!
The Parisian Woman also stars Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama, American Psycho, "The Mysteries of Laura"), Tony Award winner Blair Brown ("Orange Is The New Black," "Fringe," Copenhagen, Nikolai and the Others), Marton Csokas (Loving, The Lord of the Rings) and Tony Award nominee Phillipa Soo(Hamilton, Amélie).
Willimon sets The Parisian Woman in Washington, D.C., where powerful friends are the only kind worth having, especially after the 2016 election. At the center is Chloe (Uma Thurman), a socialite armed with charm and wit, coming to terms with politics, her past, her marriage and an uncertain future. Dark humor and drama collide at this pivotal moment in Chloe's life, and in our nation's, when the truth isn't obvious and the stakes couldn't be higher.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Jesse Green, The New York Times: Most of the rest of the cast, their parts even less defined, struggle to offer coherent portraits. This proves no impediment to Ms. Brown, however, whose 40-plus years on the stage provide her with an arsenal of theatrical weapons she can deploy at any moment. Watch her coo in pride over her daughter; watch her collapse in mortification later. Her second long scene with Ms. Thurman, when the tables get turned, is the high point of the drama. It may be the only drama, in fact.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: 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.
Matt Windman, amNY: Although the play revolves around heavy-handed plot machinations, it still manages to feel slight and slow. The characters are initially interesting but prove to be one-dimensional. The direction (by Pam MacKinnon) does little to pep up the production. One gets the sense that "The Parisian Woman" was built specifically as a star vehicle to showcase the actress playing Chloe, to make her alluring and dominant while not demanding much in terms of acting.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Thurman flails around the stage, as if she does not know what to do. Soo mostly retreats within herself, connecting with no one. Lucas and Csokas have some spark, and Csokas even has a note of vulnerability, but these characters, as they play them, are absurd. Only Brown is any good, and her character is not central enough to allow anything to build. Even the jittery set from Derek McLane is a mishmash of tradition and technology; it looks as lost and as desexualized as the actors.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: But in the end, the question of whether or not Tom gets a judgeship is a trifling matter, unworthy of all Chloe's efforts. Willimon has updated his play to reflect players in the current administration. There are mentions of "General Kelly" and "Mattis," and a few stinging references to the current resident of the White House. ("It's okay. We've got good people around him now. Well, mostly good people.") But he fails to draw on any of the many issues bedeviling the president and his minions, missing his chance to turn this mannered trifle into a substantive political drama.
David Rooney. The Hollywood Reporter: But this is a play with an identity crisis, exacerbated by MacKinnon's incongruously stylized scene changes - architectural blueprints of halls of power laced with ribbons of news ticker. Visually, these fussy interludes make no sense, beyond echoing the confusion of a work that can't decide if it's a sly political thriller about our alarming reality or a conventional drawing-room comedy about no credible reality at all.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Which may explain why The Parisian Woman is such a train wreck. If House of Cards succeeded on the strength of clipped dialogue smoothly set off by Kevin Spacey's conspiratorial asides to the audience, the dramaturgy fails Willimon here. The dialogue is stilted and delivered haltingly even by the pros in the cast, and they move about the stage as if in fear that Steve Bannon will show up any minute looking for a dance partner.
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Thurman, in her Broadway debut, seems shaky and occasionally ill at ease as the promiscuous, manipulative Chloe, juggling lovers while she connives to secure a lifetime judicial appointment for her husband, Tom (Josh Lucas, who does a lot of whining in this thankless role). Let's just say she would be no match for the ambitiously ruthless Claire Underwood of "House of Cards."
Joe Dziemianowicz, The Daily News: That makes for dishy entertainment. Since its run 2013, the play, inspired by Henri Becque's 1880s drama "La Parisienne," has been overhauled to be up-to-the-minute. At times the dialogue is too stiff to sound natural. But politics are in Willimon's wheelhouse. Before he created "House of Cards," he wrote the terrific play "Farragut North," which became the George Clooney movie "Ides of March." Still, his dramatic renovation is win-lose.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Thurman's performance is truly intriguing: Physically and verbally, you are never quite sure which direction she will go in. Under Pam MacKinnon's tight direction, Thurman slinks, stomps, charms, cajoles, threatens, and sometimes, fleetingly, she is upset. (But really, this is only fleetingly.) It's a performance that feels a little unpredictable and roughened, as if we are watching Chloe outwit not just her adversaries but also her own frazzled nerves and unseen demons.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: One potentially salutary effect of the 2016 presidential election, people on the left have been nervously saying, is that it might encourage a rebirth of oppositional political art. Beau Willimon's The Parisian Woman picks up that challenge and fumbles it. Loosely adapted from a 19th-century French play by Henry Becque, the play has been rewritten since its 2013 California premiere to specifically target the current administration, though Trump's name is not mentioned aloud until the last five minutes. Yet Willimon-who mapped the political sphere succesfully in Farragut North and Netflix's House of Cards-seems stymied by his project. A political thriller stuffed into a sex comedy's dress, the play bulges in all the wrong places.
Isabella Biedenharn, Entertainment Weekly: Between the president's incessant, exclamatory tweets and a never-ending news cycle covering the White House's hirings and firings, it's nearly impossible not to be plugged into what's happening in Washington these days. It's a time ripe for analysis, not simple observation. So you'd think The Parisian Woman, a new play from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon (who also penned the 2008 drama Farragut North) would provide a sharp, fresh perspective on these strange, unprecedented times. Unfortunately, Willimon brings none of his shrewd insight into the political machine to the stage here.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: It's not that Thurman doesn't know what to do with her hands, in the awkward manner of some film actors who ill-advisedly act on stage. It's that her gestures seem to be completely programmed. She's a little less calculated with her head tilts and line readings, but the effort shows. And that's the last thing a play about political manipulation needs.
Jen Nevins, The Guardian: An uber-modern update to Henry Becque's 1885 play La Parisienne, The Parisian Woman was originally written in 2013; after the 2016 election, Willimon felt the need to rejigger the script to make it better reflect the times. He made what he's called "substantial revisions." But since this is a play that centralizes character and milieu more than it does story, its themes might have been better emphasized were they not suffused with Trump and his aura. After all, DC has always been a minefield of questionable morals and ulterior motives.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: The Parisian Woman is back onstage, lounging at the Hudson Theatre after a makeover for the age of Twitter and Trump. But despite high wattage both onstage and off (Uma Thurman is our present-day Parisienne and Willimon created House of Cards), the results are not sparkly but wooden and smug. In attempting to walk the line between classic sexual intrigue and contemporary political resonance, The Parisian Woman falls flat on both counts, delivering yet another lamely apologetic, latently self-satisfied slog through the worldview of an ostensibly liberal white dude.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: Thurman makes her Broadway debut at the Hudson Theatre, and so does Willimon, the playwright who hit it big with "House of Cards," his juicy and now - thanks to the allegations against Kevin Spacey - canceled Netflix remake of the diabolical British series of the same title. Neither "Parisian's" star nor writer experience their finest hour with "The Parisian Woman," which had its official opening Thursday night and which, despite its plot of multiple infidelities and embittering betrayals, feels as if it has had the life sucked out of it. Not only is the Washington of Willimon's imagination here a place of tawdry political prostitution, but it's also a pretty dull den of iniquity to boot
Christian Lewis, Huffington Post: It is hard though where to place the blame. Fundamentally, this play seems like a bad piece of writing. Willimon has no other significant playwrighting credits, a fact that surprises no one in the audience. Other than the clear genre confusion previously mentioned, the dialogue itself is completely overwrought, robotic, and simplistic, often complete with odd one-liners and bon mots that only Oscar Wilde could pull off. But some blame must also go to the director, Pam McKinnon, whose most recent Broadways projects were all mostly unsuccessful, most recently, the flop "Amelie." The staging of the show was often awkward and incredibly unnatural, including bizarre acting gestures and seemingly never-ending pseudo-experimental moments of stage silence.
Mark Shenton, The Stage: That's as much a fault of the too-pat writing as it is the rather actorly performances. Marton Csokas, as Chloe's lover Peter, is saddled with a fake British accent that makes him sound like he's speaking with a mouth full of marbles. But his character also has the neatest observation on the political expediencies of the day, as a Trump-supporting operative who has the ear of the president but still says: "Presidents are assets. They exist to be bought, sold, and managed."
Roma Torre, NY1: The entire production has an under-developed quality, even Thurman's Chloe seems half-baked. It's almost as if this is a show pilot that needs subsequent episodes to flesh it all out. It's easy to be cynical about Washington politics. The hard part is making it compelling. "House of Cards" did it in spades with a stable of irresistible villains. Unfortunately, "The Parisian Woman" is neither villainous nor irresistible enough to make us care one way or the other.