WHAT ‘The Parisian Woman’
WHERE Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St., Manhattan
INFO $69.50-$299, 855-801-5876, thehudsonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Uma Thurman shaky in yet another exploration of D.C. power struggles.
Uma Thurman had signed on and “The Parisian Woman” was on track for its Broadway debut when the 2016 presidential election sent playwright Beau Willimon back to the drawing board.
The play, first produced in California in 2013, no longer felt “like the here and now,” he said in a recent Variety podcast. The substantially revised work that opened on Broadway Thursday night is unmistakably set in the first year of the Trump administration. And, without veering too significantly into the political, it could be said there are similar concerns.
Willimon, creator of the Netflix hit “House of Cards,” has created a thin, slight work that doesn’t really accomplish much. Inspired by Henri Becque’s little-known 19th century French play, “La Parisienne,” this is yet one more far-from-groundbreaking exploration of sex and power in the cutthroat corridors of Washington, D.C.
Thurman, in her Broadway debut, seems shaky and occasionally ill at ease as the promiscuous, manipulative Chloe, juggling lovers while she connives to secure a lifetime judicial appointment for her husband, Tom (Josh Lucas, who does a lot of whining in this thankless role). Let’s just say she would be no match for the ambitiously ruthless Claire Underwood of “House of Cards.”
With straightforward direction by Pam MacKinnon, the play moves from one gorgeous townhouse to another (sets by Derek McLane), introducing the participants in this fictional power struggle while dropping names (John Kelly, James Mattis, Ivanka Trump) from the actual goings-on in D.C. This tends to muddy the waters at times, so when we meet the president’s nominee for chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, Jeanette Simpson (Blair Brown, who deliciously delivers some of the play’s sharpest lines), we wonder momentarily what became of the real nominee, Jerome Powell.
As one would expect from Willimon, there’s a bombshell reveal that turns the tide here, but even that comes off as little more than a firecracker in this day and age, when it takes substantially more than an unexpected love affair to truly shock an audience.
What we end up with is a play that loses no opportunity to take shots at the current administration, from generic comments like “public opinion doesn’t matter anymore,” to specific name-calling. You have to wonder if this would have been a more impactful piece of theater if Willimon had simply left the play alone.