Seeing Uma Thurman make her highly impressive Broadway debut is enough of a reason to go to “The Parisian Woman.” But that’s not the only reason. Beau Willimon’s adaptation of Henri Becque’s 1885 French comedy “La Parisienne,” now set in contemporary Washington, D.C., is an up-to-the-minute story satirizing manipulation during the administration of Donald Trump.
Smartly directed by Pam MacKinnon with a flair for accenting comedic political daggers, the play portrays characters involved in lies and intrigue of the kind that could emerge as exposes in the New York Times or the Washington Post if enterprising reporters were to get wind of what is going on behind closed doors in “The Parisian Woman,” although not with some of the language. At one point Trump is referred to as “that f…ker” in the White House. On the night I attended it was one of the presidential references that earned big laughs. This is, after all, New York.
Back to Thurman, she plays Chloe, a dazzling looking woman who is in an open marriage with Tom (Josh Lucas), a high-level tax lawyer, and is having an affair with Peter (Marton Csokas), an influential Republican banker. Tom is on a short list for an appointment as a judge on the Federal Court of Appeals, but given his lack of judicial experience, his chances of being named are slim. He and Peter are friends, and Tom wants Peter to put in a good word with the president.
Chloe has her own ideas of how to get her husband the judgeship. Although Chloe is insidiously ruthless, she is a much more interesting character than that. She regrets that as a woman she has not achieved as much as she should have in her life. She is very much for other women to do better. She has principles on that score, even as she uses dishonesty to get what she wants for her husband and also in personal relationships.
One of the strongest scenes is a long conversation with her acquaintance, Jeanette, brilliantly played by Blair Brown, a powerful Republican who has been nominated to head the Federal Reserve. The dialogue is snappy, politically and personally, and Jeanette introduces Chloe to her daughter Rebecca, who is portrayed by Phillipa Soo in another of the play’s excellent performances. Rebecca has been studying law and, under her mother’s guidance, has a political career mapped out for her—who knows, she could be president one day. Chloe offers encouragement. Later, we are in for a surprise, and so is Rebecca’s mother.
How the play is worked out is intriguing, and includes exposure of maneuvers involving politics, blackmail and the intricacies of love. Thurman leads the way in top-level performing, demonstrating that she can be as captivating on stage as on screen, and the supporting cast members consistently show their skills. As an example of how timely the play is, there is reference to lobbying the White House’s Kelly, obviously the current Chief of Staff. Of course, given Trump’s unpredictability, a change might be necessary during the play’s run. At the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street. Phone: 855-801-5876. Reviewed December 6, 2017.