Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman, currently at the Hudson Theatre, is a well-constructed but still slightly disappointing play about sex and politics. It has a few good twists, and Willimon (creator of House of Cards) clearly knows the upscale Washington, DC milieu. It’s rather dry and talky, though, and the plot doesn’t really get juicy until the final 20 minutes. Fans of Uma Thurman and tales of political intrigue should enjoy the play, but it may leave others cold.
Three sides of a triangle
Inspired by Henri Becque’s 1885 play La Parisienne, Willimon’s version takes place in contemporary D.C. The primary setting is the comfortable living room of a townhouse. Chloe (Thurman) is annoyed with Peter (Marton Csokas) for being jealous and asking questions about whom she’s texting. In walks Tom (Josh Lucas), who turns out to be Chloe’s husband. As it turns out, Peter is just Chloe’s lover—a possessive one at that. That’s twist number one.
A successful tax lawyer with powerful clients, Tom hopes to be appointed a judge for the Fourth Circuit. He wants Peter, a wealthy businessman, to pull strings for him. His other connection who could help him win the job is Jeanette (Blair Brown), who has a powerful position at the Fed and connections in the Trump administration. At a party hosted by Jeanette, Chloe asks her to put in a good word for Peter.
Trump lightly roasted
At the party we are also introduced to Jeanette’s daughter, Rebecca (Phillipa Soo), a recent Harvard Law School grad. Her parents are rich Republicans, but she plans to run for a Democratic Congressional seat. Chloe is a Democrat, too, though she doesn’t sound like one for much of the play. There are some slight digs at Trump and his administration, but they’re pretty mild. Running only about 90 minutes, the play never drags. But the political intrigue doesn’t get really interesting until the final third, when Willimon delivers his best twist.
The play feels like a vehicle for Thurman, and she’s the reason it is on Broadway. Best known for films like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, she seems quite at ease on stage. It may be her Broadway debut, but it doesn’t show. Lucas’s performance seems a bit forced at times, but he and Thurman certainly make an attractive couple. Brown, a stage veteran who won a Tony for Copenhagen, displays impeccable timing. She delivers her best lines with flair—and she gets most of the play’s best lines.
Any way the wind blows
Peter, who is desperately in love with Chloe, isn’t a very likable character, but Csokas makes this well-to-do D.C. operator fun to watch. Like most of the characters, Peter doesn’t particularly care who is in the White House. “I go the way the wind blows,” he says. Soo, a Tony nominee for Hamilton, is also quite good. In one scene she’s poised and brimming with confidence; in another she’s vulnerable and much less sure of herself. In case we didn’t know it already, Soo shows that she has acting chops as well as a beautiful singing voice.
Pam MacKinnon directs this drawing-room comedy-drama, which couldn’t be more different than her last Broadway project, the musical Amélie (which starred Soo).
Some might wish there were sharper digs at Trump and his cronies. Others might be sick of D.C. sex and politics (fictional and otherwise). They may choose to skip The Parisian Woman altogether—unless they want to check out how divine Thurman looks stretched out on a divan.
The Parisian Woman is at the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. For tickets call (855) 801-5876.