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Hillary

nytheatre.com review by Megin Jimenez
November 23, 2008

In Wendy Weiner's new play, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most recent pawn of war in the epic battle between the Greek goddesses Athena and Aphrodite. The political becomes very personal indeed, as we watch young Hillary the rising star, single-mindedly dedicated to Athena's high ideals of democracy and justice; that is, until Aphrodite places a secret weapon called Bill Clinton in her way. The ripped-from-the-headlines story of the power couple's rise and fall from the White House is re-envisioned through the lens of Hillary's eyes, with some divine intervention thrown in. The framework of Greek drama, with mortals as the mere playthings of the gods, serves the play well. We are able to disentangle Bill and Hillary from the infinite dissections and vivisections of the media and political discourse of the past 15 years or so, and consider them as feeling human beings. The goddesses also cleverly come to embody the long-standing archetypes that all women must struggle to reconcile daily.

This sharp refocus on Hillary as woman is especially refreshing given Sarah Palin's recent pandering vice presidential run. Still, one could see this play remaining relevant 15 years from now, not only as political or historical document, but as a portrait of a compelling character uniquely of our time. Strip away the politics and we get a story of a stunningly intelligent, ambitious woman, her access to power limited by a misogynist society. The work succeeds in pulling frequently asked sociological questions out of the rhetorical realm and into our own hearts for a moment: What must women concede for the sake of love and marriage? What does it feel like to possess a powerful voice in your own right and remain confined, for years, as a smiling shadow in the background? And how does one personally bear the most public betrayal the world has ever known?

The play is subtitled "A Modern Greek Tragedy With a (Somewhat) Happy Ending," and this clearly humorous slant allows these thorny issues to be digested pleasurably. While some jokes come a little too easy (it's not, after all, very hard to mock Bill Clinton's escapades), many of the details are given an incisively smart treatment. Monica Lewinsky's fate, for example, is dealt with hilariously, though I won't spoil any surprises here.

Victoire Charles is a standout as a commanding and thinking Aphrodite, while Darren Pettie admirably manages to pull off a charming, relatable, and recognizable Bill Clinton without verging into caricature. Mia Barron's Hillary gets the job done, but remains a young thing through the course of the play. I longed for some stronger warrior chops in this heroine, a possibility the work certainly invites. While director Julie Kramer's interpretation successfully gets beyond the public (and often misogynist) mask made of Hillary Clinton, this protagonist would shrink beside the real Hillary, from voice to eyes to hard-earned poise.

The play leaves off before the New York senator's run for the presidency, and it almost seems like the narrative awaits the full unfolding of Hillary's place in history before the right ending emerges. While the first two thirds are grounded in juicy biographical points, the denouement strays too far off course into the mythological realm. Resting on a foundation of classical drama could be a powerful way to underscore all that was lost by Bill Clinton's sexual appetite in this puritan country (particularly in view of the subsequent disastrous G.W. Bush presidency), but the meatier, timeless aspects of Greek drama are sacrificed to cute references to the Elysian Fields, monsters, and classical battles, without particular relevance. The chorus, no more mighty here than a simple narrator would be, is another potentially interesting device that has not found its full use.

This work comes to us at a very particular time, of course—post-Democratic primary and exhausting landmark election, and with the real Hillary's role in the next four years still to be determined. This is all the more reason to take a trip downtown. No doubt most audience members will still be recovering from their media addiction during the past roller-coaster year, and Hillary provides the happy antidote of art, filling in the bigger picture with humor, history, and individual human stories.