Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman” with Uma Thurman

The Trump era will undoubtedly beget other plays about what his election wrought, but Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman, an updated rewriting of Henry Becque’s 1885 French comedy La Parisienne, and concerning the high-society wife of a well-connected Washington lawyer who wants a hoped-for judgeship from the new president, gets a head start.

There are disparaging references to Trump’s predilection for Twitter and his listening to the last person he saw in this tidy but static one-act drama that’s a slight disappointment from a writer whose political bona fides were brought to bear with the play Farragut North (which became the George Clooney film The Ides of March) and the Netflix series House of Cards. Willimon writes literate dialogue with acid dripping from it, but his cardboard characters’ machinations do little more than provide for the audience’s amusement and also, finally, bemusement.

It’s obviously how Washington operates—we witness the nastiness behind the scenes—but The Parisian Woman doesn’t so much illuminate as show it, so we see the results without much insight. Chloe, liberal wife of conservative tax lawyer Tom, is first seen with middle-aged banker Peter, with whom she’s having an affair (the spouses apparently have a no-talk policy about extracurricular activities). Peter’s undying love gives her the upper hand when she needs a favor: for Peter to whisper in the president’s ear about her husband’s availability for the court vacancy.

Also used by Chloe is Jeanette, Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Reserve (and seemingly modeled after Janet Yellen, the current Fed chairman), a D.C. veteran who becomes a close confidant of Chloe’s, at least until she realizes that her own daughter Rebecca—a recent Harvard law grad with a bright political future ahead of her—has become a willing pawn in Chloe’s game.

Much of the play consists of conversations in three locations—Chloe and Tom’s living room; the balcony of Jeanette’s home; and a ritzy restaurant (the stylish sets are by Derek McLane)—and director Pam Mackinnon has trouble sustaining the forward motion of a play that sits around for much of its length. That it’s only 90 minutes helps, and the final scene climaxes with another Trump allusion that’s a well-timed punch line.

Josh Lucas (Tom), Marton Csokas (Peter), Philippa Soo (Rebecca) and Blair Brown (Jeanette) give persuasive support, although Brown often barks too much like a bitchy Elaine Stritch. Making a smashing Broadway debut is Uma Thurman, whose Chloe is self-confident, shrewd, smart-looking and impossibly elegant (Jane Greenwood did the dead-on costumes): even how she lounges while sipping Sancerre is charming. Thurman makes The Parisian Woman look better than it really is.

The Parisian Woman
Written by Beau Willimon; directed by Pam Mackinnon
Performances through March 11, 2018
Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street, New York, NY

Uma Thurman and Marton Csokas in The Parisian Woman photo credit: Matthew Murphy