City Cabaret
Twitter Icon Facebook Icon

Hillary and Clinton

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Hillary & Clinton

John Lithgow and Laurie Metcalf in Hillary and Clinton.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Playwright Lucas Hnath (A Doll's House, Part 2), describes his new play, Hillary and Clinton, as "primarily a comedy," but odds are that the Hillary and Bill Clinton we know so well would not be laughing.

That's assuming that Hnath's Hillary Clinton is the woman we are all thinking about because maybe Hnath is writing about another Hillary entirely. She may even be a Hillary from another planet in this infinite universe. If so, Hillary from another planet has much in common with the earthbound Hillary we know. This play, at the Golden Theater, is set in a familiar place and time, a New Hampshire hotel room in January 2008 during Hillary's presidential race against Barack Obama.

Before the play begins, Laurie Metcalf (Hnath's A Doll's House, Part 2), walks on stage and begins flipping a coin, "heads, tails, heads, tails." What are the chances it will repeat itself and how often? In the same way, "imagine that on one of those other planet earths that’s like this one, but slightly different, that there’s a woman named Hillary." This play is her story. Or maybe it's not.

To begin the play, Metcalf shifts into "Hillary" pacing through a smaller white box set designed by Chloe Lamford, a nondescript hotel room in New Hampshire. Directed by Joe Mantello (Three Tall Women),  Hillary Clinton is campaigning to become the first female President of the U.S.  Ambitious and lonely, she is already losing her presidential race. Her political strategist, a supportive Mark (Zak Orth), tries to boost her spirits, stressing  to her, as he has before, that her husband and former U.S. President, Bill, must not be involved in the campaign. Hillary had already banished him  but now, in her discouraged state, Mark suspects she may contact him although she insists, " I’m not calling Bill...I promise"

As soon as Mark leaves, Hillary picks up the phone. "Bill? Come to New Hampshire."

Twelve hours later Bill was at the door.

With no attempt at physical resemblance and dressed casually by Rita Ryack, Metcalf and Lithgow deliver persuasive explorations of two married people, both brilliant and conflicted. In the script, Hnath instructs the actors to play the text, hoping to interpret the characters with a point of realism in a play that is political sci-phi and not factual. Yet in a way it is realistic.  We know them well, since their activities have been media fodder and a part of our lives for decades.

This hotel encounter, while politically based, is more about the past and how they see each other and themselves. Theirs is a love/hate marriage, co-dependent, emotional. In the midst of the draining exhaustion of a political campaign, they are determined and discouraged, dragging the baggage of a shared backstory of frustration and antipathy.

Metcalf's Hillary is preoccupied and anxious, a woman who has always been determined to keep her emotions tightly wound, a woman Bill describes as "cold and stubbord and guarded." He tells her that just as this is what keeps him away, it also keeps voters away. She is well aware that it was his personality that drew voters to him.

With Bill, of course, there is the problem of other women. Hillary's lengthy discourse of Bill's sleeping around reveals her inability to cry and show vulnerability. He is grateful for her promise to never divorce him ("till the end of time").

An intriguing segment shows the meeting of Hillary and her visitor, a suave newcomer named Barack Obama (Peter Francis James), her opposition in this campaign.

Most interesting is how this often draggy 90-minute excavation into the marriage of two extraordinary politial talents exposes the crack in today's glass ceiling and the encouraging possibility for the women running for the President in 2020. In 2012, Hillary Clinton was the only possibility, even a shoe-in to win before the shattering defeat. Would she, or any woman, make it in 2020? Perhaps it depends where she lives in this infinite universe.

Her final line in this play is starkly revealing: "I'm starting to realize that I live in one of the universes where I don’t win."

Hillary and Clinton

Golden Theatre
252 - West 45th Street. NYC
Previews: Mar. 6, 2019. Opening: April 18, 2019. Limited Run
Running Time: One hour, 30 minutes. No intermission.
Cast: Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow, Peter Francis James, Zak Orth
Playwright: Lucas Hnath.
Directed: Joe Mantello

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
September 2018 

Also can be read on