Theater review by Adam Feldman
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 farce 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.
To be fair, it is hard to assess The Parisian Woman on the basis of Pam MacKinnon’s enervated Broadway production. Uma Thurman plays Chloe, a Washington wife in an open marriage with tax lawyer Tom (Josh Lucas), who aspires to be appointed to a federal judgeship. The plot hinges on Chloe’s supposedly scintillating charm, but Thurman—though fetchingly attired by Jane Greenwood—is a milky dud. She has no chemistry with either the waxy Lucas or any of the other actors; it’s like watching people try to snap their fingers with wet hands. Despite well-defined performances by Marton Csokas and the formidable Blair Brown (as, respectively, a jealous lover of Chloe’s and a powerful government appointee), the play totters idly forward without finding sure footing. Although the audience titters with approval each time someone disses the White House, the play’s political analysis is wishfully thin. It is all too easy to resist.
Hudson Theatre (Broadway). By Beau Willimon. Directed by Pam MacKinnon. With Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas, Blair Brown. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through March 11.