Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Hillary and Clinton
Also see Richard's review of Good People
Deborah Dennert is excellent as the presidential candidate in an imaginary behind-the-scenes tale: running against a charming Black senator from Illinois, played with warmth and intelligence by Jonathan Garland (in this analogy, presented as a calculating troublemaker, he's comparable to Goldman's Phillip of France). But like The Lion in Winter, the bulk of this newer play centers on Senator Clinton's hopeless–and strangely compelling–relationship with her own philandering mate: the former U.S. president William Jefferson Clinton, played by Kurt Knoedelseder with avuncular charm to spare. Though, of course, what family doesn't have its ups and downs?
Tim Naegelin directs Hillary with great attention to pace. And still he gives us the full measure of the play's psychological detail, in spite of the clock. Tyson Cole rounds out the four-person cast as Mark, a frustrated campaign chief, constantly at war with the inevitable plot requirements: Mrs. Clinton is out of cash; her scandalous husband wants to take over their campaign; and Hillary's primary opponent (in 2008) wants to neutralize her by subjugating her to becoming another kind of mate, a potential vice president. Throughout, Mark fills in the holes left by the absence of Lion's older, neglected sons, Richard and Geoffrey, with regular doses of youthful angst, and of brilliance ignored. There are oblique references to Mr. Clinton's infidelities, but no newer versions of Alais or Rosamund on stage here.
And what of the Vexin? That disputed real estate in northwestern France the British Plantagenets can't stop squabbling over in Lion? Here the analogy becomes a bit nebulous. Hillary's "Vexin" might just be a much-needed victory in the New Hampshire primary, the issue of the moment–or more broadly, what advertising people call "the Q score," the likability quotient of any given celebrity, which she feels is her rightful due. Frustratingly, her husband has it in spades, in spite of himself, as does this Obama. Even Mr. Hnath's own writing upstages her in pondering the deficit, with a very nice bookending device, and a lot of fancy rhetorical footwork in some last-minute political scheming. His writing may be even better here than in his Broadway follow-up, A Doll's House, Part 2, which became one of the most oft-produced plays in America before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tragedy of it is that, enduring years of being the "wronged woman," Hillary has steadily been robbed of her own love of self. And it shows. It's still a remarkable romance, with her husband, but he is a bit of a charming steamroller. And once again, love shows the way we'll–every now and then–manage to destroy ourselves.
Hillary and Clinton runs through February 20, 2022, at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd., just north of Delmar, St. Louis MO. Reservations required, bring your proof of vaccination and a mask. There's a lighted lot behind the building. For tickets and information, please visit www.westendplayers.org.