Metcalf, John Lithgow Photos: Julieta Cervantes
By Fern Siegel
is always 20-20. That’s especially true as history unfolds — and we see the
consequences of presidential elections.
before the insidious manipulation of social media or the Mueller Report, the
presidential election of 2008 proved a study in sexism, political baggage and
Democratic candidates were particularly interesting that year — and two stars
emerged. The familiar Hillary Clinton (Laurie Metcalf) and the unknown Barack
Obama (Peter Francis James). (The play is directed by Joe Mantello; he also directed
Metcalf to her second Tony in Three
behind-the-scenes drama, coupled with a closer examination of the twisted
Bill-Hillary dynamic, defines Hillary and Clinton, now on Broadway at
subject should be meaty; but playwright Lucas Hnath, who delivered a stunning A
Doll’s House, Part 2 in 2017, has failed to provide any drama. Hillary
and Clinton, given the stakes, is curiously dull. It is a peek at marital
discord — and the sad reality of capable women eclipsed by popular men and
saddled with their sins.
setting is a hotel room in New Hampshire. Hillary, known as a successful U.S.
Senator and First Lady, feels it’s her time in the political spotlight. She is
smart, caring and eager to escape her husband’s long shadow. Bill Clinton (John
Lithgow) is a natural politician; he does meet-and-greet better than anyone
her 2008 campaign runs into early primary trouble — she lost Iowa and is behind
Obama in the polls. Campaign manager Josh (Zak Orth) insists the underdog status
will score. “So me losing is a strategy?” she snaps at him.
Metcalf & Zak
she does the one thing she swears she won’t do: call Bill.
don’t vote with their brains,” he sighs, counseling more personal reveals. Like
adults everywhere, she is horrified by pandering and suggests an alternative:
“People should grow the fuck up.”
that’s not the real world in America: Tabloids subvert truth; blank slates
(Obama) are more digestible than experience (Hillary). Even Bill Clinton is
angered by Obama’s “Yes We Can” mantra, noting: “He’s saying the same things I
said 16 years ago!”
play does nail one inescapable reality, however ignored by a fickle public:
times in the play, Hillary ponders the scientific probability of other
universes. In these far-off solar systems, she may be president. (And her
presidency will be better, she tells her errant spouse.)
in ours, she grapples with a primary system that rewards personality over
principles. It chews up merit, and gives others a pass, despite their failings.
a provocative subject — especially when the battlefield is played out along
gender lines. But Hnath drops the ball; the product placement of Coke and
Snapple get more airtime on stage.
it’s not for lack of star power — Metcalf and Lithgow, both versatile actors,
are always interesting to watch. Metcalf encompasses all the frustration
Hillary Clinton must have endured, while Lithgow portrays a more vulnerable
they lack is a stronger script.
Francis James & Laurie Metcalf
ironies abound. Had Obama taken Hillary’s offer of the vice presidency, given
the future states and votes she won in the primary, it may have ushered in a
new, more vibrant age in American politics.
that’s another play.
it is the Clinton’s singular marriage that commands center stage, alongside the
debate over political credit and capability. In another universe, things might
have been different.
Theater, 252 West 45 St. Running time: 80 minutes