On the battlefield of politics coming armed with a shield and sword will do you little good. One must learn to stroke their opponent with one hand and fight them with the other. Boom Theatre Company presents the first full-length show of their fourth season, Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a (Somewhat) Happy Ending, and as the title states elements of mythology blend into recent politics as if it were the way these two stories have always been told.
Directed by the company’s Artistic Director, Ryan Nicotra, this relatively new work by Wendy Weiner makes its East Coast premier with Boom, and is shaking up the events of the Clintonian presidency with a new mythological twist. The story becomes a political recap of the 90s, flashing before the audiences’ eyes with humorous infusions of the Greek Gods, presented with the framework of a chorus to narrate the particulars.
Director Ryan Nicotra makes a bold move with this production by setting it in the tightly confined space at the back of the consignment shop, limiting the audience to 20 people at a time. Even stronger of a choice is made by setting the performance on the long narrow strip of space that runs between the tennis-court style seating. Nicotra’s blocking of the piece, however, proves that he knows how to effectively work with this format of staging. Bringing such a powerful piece into an intimate space focuses the message the piece sends to the audience tenfold.
Responsible for the show’s design elements, Nicotra finds suitable yet subtle ways to decorate the space so that the audience does not become distracted with accoutrements or intense set pieces. American flags draped over the fluorescent lighting are just enough to imbue the production with a politically patriotic atmosphere, needing little else to remind us that the White House is the ultimate goal. Nicotra outfits the members of the Greek chorus in high-powered, sleek black business suits; effectively creating the image of Washington in regards to its political standpoint.
Playwright Wendy Weiner has crafted a brilliant political tale, wound delicately in the ambrosial threads of Greek mythology. Using familiar characters from both the Clinton era and ancient Greek stories, Weiner infuses Aphrodite and Athena into the inner workings of the Clintons’ lives as if they were always a part of the story. Her succinct ability to summarize an era in political history into a one-act play is exceptional and makes for a thoroughly engaging and intriguing piece of theatre. Ryan Nicotra demonstrates throughout the production his mastery of the intimate spatial arrangement.
Playing out scenes in duality with events happening on either end of the space forces a layer of conflict into the atmosphere. The moment that comes to mind is the simultaneous broadcast of Hillary’s big conference speech against Bill’s biggest infidelity. The more intensely Monica gets involved with Bill at one end of the space, the more fiercely Hillary’s delivery of her speech becomes. Brilliant moments of conflict are created and tensions erupt because of Nicotra’s ability to stage in this space.
Uniting the chorus as one fluid voice, despite each person speaking individually rather than simultaneously with the others, creates a curious but fascinating method for narrating the story. They handle catching each other’s phrases with ease as if they were conversing rather than narrating. Serving as supplementary characters, the members of the chorus each find a unique voice and style for presenting their cameo roles. The two that create a memorable moment with the audience are Dustin Horsman and Victoria Scott. The pair play out a vividly animated slam-campaign against Hillary and get right up in the faces of the audience with this highly comical and very intense routine.
Scott doubles up as the sensually invested Monica Lewinsky, her feminine wiles readily accessible in her seductive scenes with Bill Clinton. The desperation that Scott delivers when confronted by Hillary in regards to the affair builds a moment of emotional turmoil in the performance that makes their standoff a solid moment of high tension.
Athena (Jennifer Hasselbusch) acts as the guiding force in Hillary’s life. Hasselbusch carries the scenes of conflict between her character and Aphrodite (Samantha Allen). Her performance is grounded and she focuses on her textual delivery with strategic placement of sparse emotions over the course of her role’s existence. Her Athenian convictions are clear in the way that she encourages and reprimands Hillary; a true god-like force upon the stage.
It all comes down to Hillary (Brandi Elizabeth Brown) and Bill (Brandon Beatty). A love story that never should have been but was. The chemistry shared between them is an impeccable portrayal of how love can blossom and wither under the right conditions. Both performers are bringing a tremendous command over their characters to the stage which enhances the performance dramatically.
Beatty is the epitome of Bill Clinton especially with the way he delivers Clinton’s accent and particular patterns of speech. The charming and charismatic fashion in which he speaks reminds audiences of the former president in his hay day. Beatty balances a vulnerability and sincerity in the character that was oft glossed over by the mass media during the Lewinski scandal. Finding these earnest moments in his portrayal, Beatty makes Clinton exist as an ordinary human being despite the chaos that is clattering around him during his presidency.
Brown does an exceptional job of delivering the ferocious character of Hillary Clinton, although at her first her performance appears to hit an emotional glass ceiling. Starting off at an already excessive emotional energy level it becomes difficult for Brown to grow above this as the play progresses. There is, however, a drastic turning point in Brown’s performance, after which the glass ceiling of her emotional restriction is shattered and the depth of her character transcends into Hades, literally and metaphysically. Brown is an impressive performer when it comes to bringing the intensity of pragmatic drive to this character.
It is an edgy and impressive piece of work, a must see regardless of political affiliation; and well-handled in this extremely intimate space.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a (Somewhat) Happy Ending plays through March 23, 2014 at Boom Theatre located inside of Barely Used Consignments— 8 N. Main Street in Bel Air, MD. For tickets, purchase them online. Seating is extremely limited for this performance and advanced tickets are strongly recommended.