Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy With a (Somewhat) Happy Ending


By Wendy Weiner. Dir. Julie Kramer. New Georges at the Living Theatre. (CLOSED)

Pleasant surprise dominated the critical response to Wendy Weiner's new political satire, which tells the well-trod tale of HRC's ambitions, and the stumbling blocks that have often derailed them, in the form of a Greek tragedy. Critics were mainly delighted with director Julie Kramer's tone and the lead performances of Mia Barron and Darren Pettie, though there was some dissent about whether the timing for such a play is exactly right or precisely wrong.

New Theatre Corps A

(Jason Fitzgerald) There is a surprising correspondence between celebrity gossip and Greek tragedy: Both break stories down into archetypes and a series of tableaux, and by doing so, they become models for how (or how not) to live our own lives. But gossip makes us feel superior to its subjects, while tragedy makes them our equals, so that their struggles become our own. It is this formula that lets Wendy Weiner’s Hillary...transcend its Saturday Night Live potential to become a surprisingly moving and humanizing retelling of one celebrity’s familiar story.

The New York Times A-
(Neil Genzlinger) It works remarkably well, considering that you may walk into the Living Theater, where the play is being staged, predisposed to think that it’s way too early to revisit the Clinton presidency...There is, admittedly, not a lot of character depth here, but Ms. Weiner and the director, Julie Kramer, maintain a tone just short of slapstick, which lets them serve up a variety of effective set pieces. The play, about 1 hour 45 minutes, ultimately feels long (or needs an intermission), but the laughs come steadily.

Variety A-
(Sam Thielman) Far from whipping the dead horse of the Clinton campaign, Wendy Weiner's clever dissection of the woman who would be president offers a refreshingly funny and unexpected interpretation of HRC's life in politics by taking the form of a Greek tragedy. Tongue firmly in cheek, Weiner knits together an engagingly contradictory collection of Washington insider anecdotes and Greek myths--it's the sort of thing you might dream up if you fell asleep watching "Clash of the Titans" and reading the Starr Report. Weiner's enjoyably dumb comedy is helped immeasurably by its leads, especially Mia Barron and Darren Pettie. The two thesps play the former First Couple without even an aftertaste of irony or cuteness...One of the coolest things about "Hillary" is that slight tickle you get in the back of your brain every time our heroine interacts with the gods...The only real objection to "Hillary" is that it ends right before we get to the good stuff.

Backstage A-
(Ronni Reich) Cringingly, groaningly fantastic. The familiar tale of boundless promise, ambition, and self-delusion becomes full-out amphitheatre material, complete with togas, chorus, and ominous ravens that fall from the sky bearing such gifts as The Washington Post and a subpoena...Under Julie Kramer's sharp direction, Mia Barron and Darren Pettie give performances that are constantly funny and just sympathetic enough...To Weiner's credit, tragic flaws, an epic journey, and a kind of catharsis manage to come through. This is a lot for one production, but not necessarily too much: Hillary could use an intermission, though it runs just under two hours. If only the campaign had been so succinct.

New Yorker B+
Surprisingly—and eerily—the Greek-tragedy conceit works so well with this epic figure that one can almost excuse the play’s many ideological missteps, including the implication that Clinton’s ambitions boil down to daddy issues. Weiner does an impressive job of mining the media detritus of the Clinton years—the stained dress, the Starr Report, Bill’s penchant for fast food—for the right materials to paint a portrait that is both loving and lacerating.

That Sounds Cool B+
(Aaron Riccio) Director Julie Kramer is constantly struggling to keep the jokes clever without coming across as slight. This is somewhat accomplished by allowing things to be campy...With seriousness sacrificed on the altar, Hillary manages to give audiences exactly what they expect: a mock history lesson. This is where Weiner’s cleverness pays off: Bill is cast as Achilles—you can guess which part of his body his mother failed to dip into the sacred springs. The path to the underworld is, of course, in Newt Gingrich’s cellar...There’s also a deeper humanity to the show, thanks to Barron’s portrayal of Hillary...That this comic modernization of a rather considerable mythos manages to be heartfelt at all is a gift from the gods. B+
(Megin Jimenez) 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] 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.

Time Out NY C+
(Helen Shaw) All theatrical animals are vulnerable, but none is so defenseless as the naked satire. Political parodies are entertainment’s tree frogs, first to suffer when conditions change. And so, poisoned by an environment supersaturated with Clinton awareness, Wendy Weiner’s intermittently amusing, strangely dated Hillary falls well shy of its primary goal...The power couple do wonderful work—Pettie charms us silly and Barron breaks our hearts. But hit-and-run material like this needs lightness, relevance and speed. Director Julie Kramer slows the show down to a walk.

New Theatre Corps A 13; NY Times A- 12; Variety A- 12; Backstage A- 12; New Yorker B+ 11; That Sounds Cool B+ 11; B+ 11; TONY C+ 8; TOTAL: 90/8=11.25 (B+)

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