A mighty sigh - equal parts frustration and resignation - seems to animate "Hillary and Clinton," Lucas Hnath's piquant, slender new play about ... well, it's about exactly what, and whom, its title suggests. This production, which opened on Thursday night at the Golden Theater under the suave direction of Joe Mantello, is indeed a portrait of a marriage between two extremely well-known American politicians. As for that propulsive sigh, it emanates from the title character called Hillary, who spends the surprisingly airy 90 minutes of this show in what might be called a state of angry wistfulness. It is our very good fortune that Hillary is portrayed by Laurie Metcalf, an actress who does being thwarted better than anyone.
HILLARY AND CLINTON Broadway Reviews
Hillary and Clinton just opened at the John Golden Theatre, where it plays through July 21, 2019. The new play by Tony Award nominee Lucas Hnath, stars award-winning actors Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow. Completing the cast are Zak Orth and Peter Francis James.
Behind closed doors in the state of New Hampshire during the early days of 2008, a former First Lady named Hillary (Metcalf) is in a desperate bid to save her troubled campaign for President of the United States. Her husband, Bill (Lithgow), sees things one way; her campaign manager, Mark, sees things another. If any of this sounds familiar, don't be fooled; in a universe of infinite possibilities, anything that can happen, will.
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Like Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2, this play is also a protrait of a complicated marriage, loving but not fully satisfying, and of a woman's attempts to define herself beyond it; her agitation is adeptly contrasted with Bill's wounded slickness and the smooth confidence of her primary opponent, Barack Obama (Peter Francis James). Directed firmly and dryly by Joe Mantello, Hillary and Clinton is cogent, snappy and perceptive about political and emotional realities. Much of the ground it covers might seem old to those who follow the news, but the play has now, as it could not have had in 2016, a looming sense of tragedy. Its final line, a shiv to the gut, sends you out hurting into the universe, outside the theater, where we somehow find ourselves now.
‘Hillary And Clinton’ Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow Are Winning Ticket We Hardly Knew
Lucas Hnath's Hillary and Clinton boasts the gladdening sight of Laurie Metcalf, her every bit the equal John Lithgow and director Joe Mantello's unfailing grace, but for all of that, no small part of the satisfaction this play delivers is recognition of an entirely different sort. Yes, you're likely to think at least once or maybe many times during these 90 minutes, that's just what I suspected... Though if you're being honest with yourself, you'll add, ...but with considerably less wit, intellectual nuance and deep, unexpected compassion.
Lithgow and Metcalf, both Emmy-winning veterans of network sitcoms, know every comedic beat to hit. (The set designed by Chloe Lamford and lighting by Hugh Vanstone reminded me of watching politics unfold on TV, something we've all become all-too-accustomed to in the last several years.) But it is Metcalf, who seems to have become the exceptional director Joe Mantello's muse of late (she earned a Tony for their previous collaboration in Three Tall Women and they've announced their next collaboration will be Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) who elevates this production with devastating take-downs of her her husband like, "You know given the chance I will eclipse you." Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, the repercussions of that line, 11 years later, will knock the wind out of you.
A remarkable performance by Laurie Metcalf and quite a sympathetic one by John Lithgow, two superb actors playing at the top of their exceptional games in the title roles, make this offbeat comedy a must-see for savvy viewers who cannot be bothered with the usual tourist crap on Broadway.
That's when it's clear: Hillary and Clinton, an intriguing, fulfilling sketch of a fantasy that opened tonight at the Golden Theatre, is not The West Wing, a counterfactual of a competent, kind, White House to comfort us amid its opposite. It is instead M*A*S*H, looking back at an earlier war, to help us understand our current quagmire. The situation is real, or realish: the three characters arguing are Hillary, Bill, and Hillary's campaign strategist, Mark Penn, and Hillary really did barely eke out a win. But the interactions are imagined: It's the hard look we all wish we take at the Clintons' marriage behind closed doors.
BWW Review: Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow Debate The Art of Getting Elected in Lucas Hnath's Political Fan Fiction HILLARY AND CLINTON
One might wonder if, a century or so from now, audiences might be able to see Hillary and Clinton with fresh eyes, uninformed by public knowledge and public opinion. But for now, it's those previous opinions we hold that act as additional characters in this vibrant social commentary comedy about the job of getting elected.
He takes a deep dive into Hillary and Bill's psyche and he clearly has done his homework. Fortunately, he's got an A plus cast to work with. Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow are, as expected, outstanding. Hillary's in New Hampshire, a basket case after coming in third in Iowa. Frustrated and defensive she has to decide whether to continue in the race, drop out or agree to be Obama's running mate. Bill has been banished from the campaign, but in Hillary's desperation, she calls him for help. As directed by Joe Mantello, the dynamic between the two is engrossing on that bare stage. But what emerges is not so much a dramatic play as a psychological study of two brilliant and flawed people.
Metcalf is alternately steely, frantic, no-nonsense, desperate and steadfast - and she makes every one of those transitions while looking simultaneously backward and forward. She's cautious. She's deliberate. She's beyond smart. She will never be president. Lithgow keeps it extremely light playing a Bill Clinton that would delight a Trump voter. He's not the bumpkin John Travolta gives us in "Primary Colors," but he does eat pizza, wears obscenely short jogging trunks and has no shame when it comes to seducing voters.
Review: 'Hillary and Clinton' on Broadway revists politics' most painful paradox, with the help of Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow
I've liked this play since I first saw its premiere in Chicago - and, in Metcalf and Lithgow, it now has two in-sync old pros, demonstrably aware of the capriciousness of fame and power. Of course, this is not a charitable portrait of two dedicated public servants. Both appear without their pants at times - Hnath reduces them to hotel room obsessives, navigating their greatest challenge. Each other.
The play is as zippy as A Doll's House, Part 2, but whereas that felt new, fresh, and subversive, Hillary and Clinton feels like very old and well-trodden ground, a mash-up of every single argument you've ever heard (with very little new insight) in favor and against Hillary Clinton.
It's not an epic political tale that Hnath outlines in "Hillary and Clinton," which had its official opening Thursday at Broadway's Golden Theatre. Rather, in 80 muscular minutes, Hnath, author of the trenchant "A Doll's House, Part 2" - another marriage play - is providing a mere snapshot. But in that fleeting picture, he embeds a persuasive case for the codependency that rules them both, one that allows their partnership to survive, even in the aftermath of embarrassing, even humiliating, disclosures.
And here we come to the downside of Hnath's slippery technique. He crafts an adult, intelligent play about Hillary and Bill's private and public trials, but he's far too nice about it. Over the course of 90 minutes, Hill and Bill argue, make up, discuss the campaign, but the end is never in doubt, and there's a curiously defeated quality not only to Hillary's hopes, but to the arc of the drama itself. In the end, Hillary and Clinton is the wistful, Thornton Wilder-tinged mediation on HRC that no one asked for. There are rants, jokes and confessions, but it doesn't add up to much more than clever, lightly postmodern fanfic. (The same was ultimately true of A Doll's House, Part 2.) If you expect ideological shocks or absurdist flourishes, you'd be better off watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
There's no shortage of scintillating elements in Hillary and Clinton. First and foremost are two giants of the American stage, Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, giving wryly amusing - and occasionally poignant - performances that tantalize with private glimpses into very public figures. Then there's playwright Lucas Hnath, who seems ideally equipped to explore a modern political power union, having mined subversive humor and stimulating insights on marriage and gender dynamics in A Doll's House, Part 2, which won Metcalf her first Tony Award. And not to forget Joe Mantello, one of the most reliably incisive directors working on Broadway.
If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it's Laurie Metcalf - and here she is, in Lucas Hnath's "Hillary and Clinton," giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton's feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow - and here he is, too. Who better to work with these actors, sounding the depths of these iconic figures, than director Joe Mantello, who is also on deck.
As directed by Joe Mantello (whose numerous Broadway credits include the recent revivals of "Three Tall Women" and "The Boys in the Band"), Metcalf and Lithgow (each a two-time Tony winner) give performances that are vulnerable but otherwise forgettable in the context of their distinguished careers. But what can you expect from asking them to play the Hillary and Bill Clinton of "one of those other planet Earths"?
Not even two of the brightest stage stars - Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow - can make "Hillary and Clinton" more than a wispy exercise. The barbed comedy that opened Thursday night on Broadway doesn't lack for laughs. But as it rehashes old wounds, it offers no fresh insights into either political or personal realms.