Scenes from a Marriage turns Political in in Lucas Hnath’s new play.
By: Patrick Christiano
April 24, 2019: In his new play, Hillary and Clinton, Lucas Hnath, who was Tony nominated last season for A Doll’s House, Part 2, takes a look at the politics of marriage with a fictionalized peek behind closed doors at the former First Lady and the former President. Directed by Tony Award winner, Joe Mantello, and starring Tony winners, Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, the evening is a shrewd portrait of a loving, yet complicated marriage set in the world of politics.
When the story begins, Hillary is in New Hampshire struggling to rescue her troubled campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination for President against an insurgent Barack Obama. She finished a dismal third in the Iowa primary, but remains determined to secure the nomination and to define herself beyond her marriage. Mark, her campaign manager, played by Zak Orth, doesn’t want to involve her husband, Bill, at all, but Hillary is conflicted about how to proceed. Her campaign is also hurting financially and will be doomed if she loses here. The former President’s ability to easily raise money complicates her need for him and raises the stakes for her to hear what he thinks, despite Marks insistent protestations.
One hitch, I neglected to mention, this is an alternate universe, and anything is possible. Just before the play’s first scene, Laurie Metcalf as Hillary, makes her entrance with a microphone to explain that the play unfolds on some other planet Earth, which although like this one is slightly different. In our universe there are an infinite number of women named Hillary running for president. This caveat gives Hnath the freedom to hypothesize about the Clinton’s relationship, while at the same time creating the impression that we, the audience, are the proverbial fly on the wall.
Metcalf and Lithgow are excellent and work beautifully together. They, of course, don’t resemble the Clintons, and make no attempt to imitate them either, instead playing the essence of Hillary and Clinton in relation to the text. We get a strong, but wounded Hillary understandably frustrated by Bill and his baggage. We feel the struggle she has faced to unite her public and private personas contrasted with her husband’s ease in being himself.
The concept, to look back at a volatile time in their marriage through the prism of politics, is a terrific idea, however the unfolding events, although constantly amusing and thought-provoking, play more like domestic comedy than serious drama. We don’t learn anything new and much of what we do hear is supposition. Under Joe Mantello’s steady hand the evening, without an intermission, plays at a brisk 80 minutes.
Hillary and Clinton
The John Golden Theatre
252 West 45 Street, NYC
Through July 21, 2019
Photography: Julieta Cervantes