Review by Kathleen Campion
If a four-word review would be useful — and it might be in the Twitterverse we seem to inhabit— the thing to know about The Parisian Woman is that it is mostly “lipstick on a pig.”
In this Broadway debut vehicle for Uma Thurman, playwright Beau Willimon offers a remarkably pedestrian script mixing hoary cliché with his signature House of Cards Washington-insider slant, smug asides signaling status: “I spoke to Kelly,” as code for “I’m connected in the Oval,” and “I don’t see much of the President,” for “I see the President.”
He glosses on a sheen of Trump-hate — sneering references to “fake news” and the conviction that whoever spoke last to Trump has outsized influence over him. Not long into the 90-minute performance, the audience, starving for entertainment, rose to each one-liner mention of the administration and its sorry state. You’d find more punch in an open-mike night in Queens.
If The Parisian Woman were meant to be a straightforward comedy, a stable of writers could be kept busy freshening the script, slipping in Deutsche Bank references and Mueller bons mots. But Willimon overreaches, folding in marital infidelity pressed into political service, a bewildering male-menopause theme, and the predictable collusion of the D.C. establishment swallowing hard to gain advantage.
Wish I could say that, in the slurry of writing iced with cliché and of glacial direction, there was a winning performance. I can think of one such moment. When Thurman’s character, Chloe, the title character, describes the triangular freckles on her long-ago lover’s neck, there is a short-lived flicker of genuine. But it is one moment, and only a flicker.
Still, Uma Thurman is, by god, still Uma Thurman, and she is the focus of the play and the magnet of the audience’s eye. She struts Jane Greenwood’s wardrobe with distinction. But opening a show on her substantial film and television celebrity lands a ponderous weight on her modest stage skills.
Josh Lucas (Tom) plays the menopausal husband in a muddled search for redemption with a complacent ease. Blair Brown (Jeanette) is meant to play an amalgam of Washington’s power brokers in skirts, and, while I’m a huge fan of her often-subtle delivery, in this performance she seemed to be swinging for the fences.
In the end, a fair number — perhaps most — of the people in rows A through F (I didn’t turn around) stood to applaud the cast. I sometimes think this phenomenon, a sort of required standing ovation unique to the B’way theater, is driven less by the actual performance and more by the human instinct that, having paid so much for so little, we wish to convince ourselves that it was terrific.
There’s a sense of missed opportunity here. Perhaps The Parisian Woman could have been funny if it had not struggled so for significance. Perhaps it could have been significant if … oh, well. It’s neither funny nor significant.
The Parisian Woman, written by Beau Willimon, directed by Pam McKinnon
WITH: Uma Thurman (Chloe), Josh Lucas (Tom), Blair Brown (Jeanette), Marton Csokas (Peter), and Phillipa Soo (Rebecca).
Design by Derek McLane, costumes by Jane Greenwood, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, sound by Broken Chord.
Presented by Marc Rough, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, and Steven Baruch, at the Hudson Theater, 145 West 44th St., Manhattan, 855-801-5876, through March 11. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.