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The Parisian Woman

Josh Lucas and Uma Thurman in The Parisian Woman

Josh Lucas and Uma Thurman in The Parisian Woman. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

You'd expect that politics on Broadway would be an intriguing gift-wrapped star vehicle, what with all the elements of Washington's dashing, in-the-know style and back-stabbing, ambition and sly perfidy on all sides.  Unfortunately, despite today's prodigious amount of news available, fake and real, Beau Willimon's The Parisian Woman at the Hudson Theatre has the feel of a old-time parlor drama.

Willimon had created another Washington DC drama, television's House of Cards, a series of spicy political manipulators driving to any lengths to reach their egomaniacal ambitions.  Similarly, The Parisian Woman features a vainglorious lineup of conspirators but the force and energy of the TV series is lacking in the Broadway play.

Inspired by Henri Becque's 1895 La Parisienne, Willimon's stage venture has more of a passé frivolity.  Willimon adapts Becque's boulevardier play and updates it to the Trump years but the ambiance is slack and much of the dialogue is stilted.  Much of this is due to the star of this vehicle, Uma Thurman in her Broadway debut.  Tall and slender as a reed, the stunning Thurman plays Chloe, and while Thurman has abundant star power to draw in an audience, she never quite catches the essence of her character.  Her delivery is unsure and her hands seem uncertain as to where they should go. 

Chloe is a political liberal married to Washington tax attorney Tom (Josh Lucas Lucas).  It is her drive to help him attain an important judgeship that rules the show.  Since the judicial appointment will come, nor not, from President Trump, she does her part with various side-activities, such as a dalliance with Peter (Marton Csokas), a current lover who has the President's ear.  As he says, "I go whichever way the wind blows" and the wind was at Trump's back so that is where Peter placed himself.  Sexual and social intrigues are the games in Washington and they are games played hard and played to win.

Working the room at a high-level soiree buzzing with intrigue, Chloe befriends Jeanette, a can-do conservative Republican about to become the next head of the Federal Reserve.  Portrayed by Blair Brown (Copenhagen) in a stellar performance of wit, warmth and occasionally a chilly disregard, Jeanette knows the way to get what she wants and Chloe eyes Jeanette as someone important to know.  At this same party, Jeanette introduces Chloe to her daughter, Rebecca (Phillipa Soo from Hamilton), a brilliant new up-and-comer who, like Chloe, happens to be a liberal.  Rebecca is passionate about going after what she wants, having learned a thing or two from as her go-getting, straight-talking mother.  As the evening goes on, secrets emerge and are later used. 

Besides Thurman's wooden performance, Josh Lucas is attractive but an unappealing husband with little to offer her or the judicial world.  Chemistry between the couple is bland.  Csokas as Chloe's lover is equally distasteful with a whiny jealous streak, hinting that his days with Chloe are numbered.  The high-point of this show is Blair Brown as Jeanette.

Directed by Pam McKinnon, there is not a seamless, smooth flow to the show and while revelations are unveiled, much is we have seen before.  Derek McLane designed elegant sets for the high-level politicos with Chloe and Tom's townhouse, a balcony and a posh eatery.  Between scenes, Darrel Maloney presents a digital wall of ripped-from-the-headlines breaking news. Peter Kaczorowski enhances the players with his lighting and Jane Greenwood dresses Chloe in stylish at-home and party threads.  Jeanette is tastefully dressed as a conservative mother and Rebecca obviously shops at the finest boutiques. 

There is plenty of drama in Washington D.C. but with everything this swamp holds, there is more to think and argue about than the so-so intrigues in The Parisian Woman.

The Parisian Woman

The Hudson Theater
139-141  - West 44 St, New York, NY
Previews: Nov. 9, 2017. Opening: Nov. 20, 2017. Closing: Mar. 11, 2018
Running time: 90 minutes. No intermission.
Cast: Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Marton Csokas, Phillipa Soo
Playwright: Beau Willimon
Director: Pam McKinnon

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
December 2017 

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