*Hillary and Clinton,* 4/23/19
I saw *Hillary and Clinton* on Broadway on 4/23/19. It's a new play by Lucas Hnath, who wrote the extraordinary *A Doll's House Part 2.* Here's how broadway.com describes the play:
"Behind closed doors in the state of New Hampshire during the early days of 2008, a former First Lady named Hillary is in a desperate bid to save her troubled campaign for President of the United States. Her husband, Bill, 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 can happen. Hillary and Clinton examines the politics of marriage, gender roles, and the limitations of experience in this profound and timely look at an American dynasty in crisis."
The play starred Laurie Metcalf as Hillary, she won a Tony as Nora in *A Doll's House Part 2* - - and John Lithgow as Clinton. There are two other actors in the cast: Zak Orth as Mark Penn (Hillary's chief strategist and pollster) and Peter Francis James as Hillary's opponent, a man named Barack.
I loved the play. The word that kept coming to mind was "invigorating." It was so exciting, so much fun, so satisfying and stimulating. There were moments of intense drama, moments of sweetness, and the whole thing was intellectually rewarding. Of course the play is an imagined, fictional version of what was possibly happening, but that didn't make it feel less true or vital.
I don't know if it was Hnath or director Joe Mantello who made this decision, but the two lead actors never for a moment impersonated the real people. Lithgow, I suppose, looks a bit like Bill, but he didn't talk like him, and Metcalf looked nothing like Hillary, she looked decidedly like Laurie Metcalf. Strangely enough, this made it easier to accept that they were playing these people we (feel like we) know so well.
The chemistry between the two lead actors was a joy to behold. Hnath and Lithgow wrote/played Bill Clinton as supremely self-centered, and exasperating to Hillary. At one point she says (I'm paraphrasing), "People talk about how you make them feel like they're the only person in the room, that you give of yourself and listen to them in such a meaningful way. Could I meet that Bill? Could I spend some time with him?"
Metcalf was nothing short of dazzling. She has a thrilling way of talking like those are her thoughts, her words, her intentions. Every moment was crackling with drama. Even just watching her put on a pair of pants was dense with drama and humor.
The spirit of Edward Albee hung over the play. I last saw Metcalf in Albee's *Three Tall Women,* in the same theater, directed by Mantello (she won a second consecutive Tony for that performance). She and Mantello are coming back to Broadway next spring to do Albee's *Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?* I last saw Lithgow in Albee's *A Delicate Balance,* again in the same theater. But beyond those somewhat superficial Albee connections, the deep love and combat between Bill and Hillary had a strong whiff of George and Martha in *Virginia Woolf.*
The biggest joy of the play was seeing a great piece of writing onstage with nothing getting in the way. I'm a big fan of Belgian whack job Ivo van Hove, I've seen many of his shows and loved them all, and when you see a van Hove show, it's him you're seeing onstage. The primary element of the show is the presence of the director. In this show it was the writing, the play itself that was the star of the show. The actors were extraordinary, and Mantello directed them with brilliance and verve, but it was Hnath who made the biggest impression.
Here's a video done by Variety, an interview with Metcalf and Lithgow talking about the play and its purpose.