In the Land of Sinners, the Whore Is Queen

We begin with a lovers’ quarrel.  “Who are you writing?” Peter (Martin Csokas) barks at Chloe (Uma Thurman).  Peter’s jealousy has gotten worse recently—or maybe Chloe has changed since January.  “Give me your phone,” he demands after hearing the ding of a text.  “Once you stop trusting me,” she asks him, “what do we have left?”  But the two are interrupted by someone at the door: “It’s my husband!”

So begins The Parisian Woman, Beau Willimon’s slick, ninety-minute take on Donald Trump’s Washington.  Mr. Willimon, of course, is most famous for his Netflix series House of Cards, and the terrain here is very familiar: Chloe is married to Peter (Josh Lucas), a well-connected tax attorney hoping for a federal judgeship in this anything-goes environment; like their television predecessors, Chloe and Peter are despicable people with a strong, loving, open marriage.  While he cashes in decades of favors, she works behind the scenes twisting the arms of friends and lovers.  But recalling a youthful affair with a young Parisian, Chloe wonders if this new administration is a bridge too far: she is, after all, a Democrat, and it seems like the quiet peace she has made with her husband’s pragmatic political indifference is becoming less and less tenable.

Mr. Willimon is expert at crafting sharp dialogue and compelling drama.  Still, as a whole, the play is rather unimaginative.  It’s pretty much what we’d expect, from the regular drumbeat of twists to the audience-pandering jokes about Trump—references to draining the swamp and so on.  Mr. Willimon avoids using the president’s name until the final scene, casting a nice, ghostly shadow over the action, but for the most part, the material is far too thin to justify its existence: why bother with Trump at all, why not just write a traditional thriller when you have so little to say?  In this era of oversaturation, when news becomes dated within hours, you need a really good reason to add your voice to the clamor.  Mr. Willimon doesn’t have one.

The Parisian Woman runs through March 11th at the Hudson Theatre.  141 W. 44th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 30 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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