Review: ‘The Parisian Woman’ — All Snooze, No Sizzle
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, December 1, 2017
There’s something remarkable going on at the Hudson Theatre, where Beau Willimon’s new play The Parisian Woman, directed by Pam MacKinnon, opened last night with Uma Thurman in the lead. They’ve discovered how to manipulate time!
Yes, time is apparently flexible on West 44th Street, because this new—drama? comedy? mess?—manages to turn 90 minutes into eons. At least it feels that way.
Thurman is the title character, Chloe, the distaff half of a Washington power couple. Her husband, Tom, played by Josh Lucas, is a tax lawyer who has spent his career advising the rich and venal on how to hide their assets. But now—out of nowhere—Tom has had a crisis of conscience and wants a circuit court judgeship so he can do good. Of course, the way he wants to get to be a judge isn’t all that above board, so apparently that conscience thing is negotiable.
His wife is, we are told, fascinating and irresistible. I’m glad they told me, because I would have had no idea. Thurman is stiff and strangely tilted (I mean that literally; she seems to be trying to bend over backwards), and her movements are so odd and disconnected that it seems like she’s playing a game of Simon Says (“Simon says raise your hand,” “Simone says sit in the pretty beige chair”).
Another power player is Chloe’s overeager lover, Peter, played by Marton Csokas. Chloe has asked Peter to “put in a good word” with the Trump administration to ensure Tom’s appointment. Peter is, we are told, a super-rich banker. This is perhaps the play’s most absurd notion. Csokas plays Peter with such shrinking, cringing recoil that it is hard to buy him as a bank teller, much less a bank chairman. In her machinations, Chloe has also turned to another big shot, her new friend Jeanette (Blair Brown), who has just been nominated to head the Federal Reserve. Jeanette is also the mother of the bright and shining Rebecca (Philipa Soo), who has graduated from Harvard Law and is about to take the world—and Congress—by storm. Rebecca is not yet powerful, which means she still has a conscience, although she is forced to make a speech about it that could make Mother Teresa turn to gin.
Brown and Soo manage to scare up some character development that almost gets you to believe there are real human beings on the stage. But even they cannot get this leaden dough to rise.
There is blackmail and some “shocking” revelations and supposed passion, and very lame potshots at the current administration, guaranteed to make an audience of Manhattanites chuckle. But they’re cheap shots, and the laughs are scarce and forced.
Willimon should know whereof he writes. He created House of Cards, after all. But nothing that happens in this long 90 minutes is based in anything credible. Tom’s crisis of conscience comes out of nowhere, a mere few minutes after he’s admitted that he’s willing to lie under oath to get through his confirmation hearings. Chloe lives a life of well-upholstered leisure, reading vampire novels and having affairs, but she rises to the call, ridden, supposedly, with guilt because her generation “stood by and watched it happen.” Chloe and Ton claim to love each other deeply, and see each other for what they are, which is why their marriage can work. But there is nothing real about their relationship, or them, and their connection seems thinner than the paper that was wasted to write this play.
The Parisian Woman at the Hudson Theater, 145 West 44th Street, through March 11, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes. Written by Beau Willimon. Directed by Pam MacKinnon; scenic design by Derek McLane; costume design by Jane Greenwood; lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski; projection design by Darrel Maloney; sound design and original composition by Broken Chord; hair design by Tom Watson; make-up design by Tommy Kurzman. Cast: Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Marton Csokas, and Phillipa Soo.
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Cover: Josh Lucas and Uma Thurman in ‘The Parisian Woman;’ photo: Matthew Murphy.