By Beau Willimon
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Beau Willimon is perhaps best known for creating the successful Netflix original series “House of Cards” which is completing its final season. Much of what made the series so savvy was the way the writers exposed the chicanery and dishonesty of politics without “naming names.” The episodes wisely left making connections to current events to the viewers. Inspired by Henry François Becque’s 1885 play “La Parisienne,” Mr. Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” currently running at the Hudson Theatre, overshadows its important themes of love, trust, and the dynamics of relationships with clichés about Number 45 and the shenanigans in the current West Wing.
Successful tax attorney Tom (Josh Lucas), wanting “to make a difference,” is in the running for nomination to a Federal judgeship and his wife Chloe (Uma Thurman) wants to help him get the job despite her affairs with the uber-jealous Peter (Marton Csokas) and a recent female graduate of Harvard Law (the play’s only “surprise”). Chloe’s future with Tom is uncertain. He knows of Chloe’s flirtations and accepts them as part of their “agreement.” But his wife’s penchant for other lovers has grown tiresome and has affected their marriage. After all, Chloe affirms, “You can pretend to love anything for fifteen minutes.” This is a reference to Tom pretending to like port at Jeanette’s (Blair Brown) bash, but proves to be a foreshadowing of things to come. As is Chloe’s interest in Jeanette’s daughter Rebecca (Phillipa Soo) who also attends the party. This is the flimsy plot driven by uninteresting characters with mostly mundane conflicts.
It seems no one knows what do with Beau Willimon’s script: Pam MacKinnon directs it like a daytime television drama and the actors decide to follow her lead and deliver stilted performances that rarely rise above the mediocre. Only Josh Lucas and Blair Brown seem to want to explore the deeper levels of their characters Tom and Jeanette respectively, but Ms. MacKinnon’s lugubrious pacing often gets in the way of the farcical tone that is at the heart of the script. What ought to be light and terribly funny becomes ponderous and overwrought leaving all attempts at exploring the comedy beneath the high drama falling flat.
Derek McLane’s set is exquisite with stunning detail. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting is delicate and appropriate. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are serviceable but too often oddly ill-fitting which is quite unusual for the iconic designer. The massive drop-down “screen” with Darrel Maloney’s projections seemed out of place and simply provides a needless opportunity for the set changes. Actors appearing in “doorways” glancing at one another and the audience then strutting off is odd indeed.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Willimon’s important rich and enduring questions get lost in his muddled script. What is truth? Is truth important? Is telling the truth important? Is there a difference between truth and reality? What is that difference? Grappling with questions like these can be redemptive, especially at times when multiple distractions attempt to cloud verity and validity. “The Parisian” Woman” avoids addressing the questions it raises instead opting for rehashing the political news of the day with disappointing results.