Drawing room comedy is back for the moment, thanks to Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman. Genuine high wattage star Uma Thurman is riding in this vehicle which deals with the powerful people in present-day Washington, whom we are told are the only sort worth having as friends. Pam McKinnon has staged the play with fluidity, and Thurman in particular moves about the beautiful space with command and great grace. She belongs in this elegant environment, and this play deals with how she manages to assure her place in it.
It’s worrisome that it reflects the truth at least as we know it – about much of our current world in which the truth is elusive and the stakes are high. To make certain we don’t miss the point that it’s all happening now, Willimon has turned to his earlier version of the play (circa 2013) and moved it up to Trump time by inserting, every now and then, a quote from our president’s tweets. They get the laughs, but they seem out of place, belonging more in a sketch on Saturday Night Live.
The play is a free adaptation of the 19th Century La Parisienne by Henry Becque. Thurman is playing “Chloe,” a socialite who is coming to terms with her marriage, her past, her uncertain future, and her need to be useful. She has a lover, and in due course, she is introduced to an influential matron with important social and political connections. The play gives us glimpses of her relations with her husband, lover, important lady friend, and lady friend’s young and ambitious daughter who will figure importantly in her plan to help her husband win the appointment to an important post – one from which he might just be able to accomplish some real good. The lighthearted banter that serves the first half of this 80-minute play is darkened somewhat as the gears of the plot kick in at a pivotal turn when the stakes in Chloe’s life rise, and she makes her move to see that all works out well for her and her husband.
Thurman knows her way around a funny line, and her Chloe is easy to like and difficult to read. As her paramour Peter, Marton Csokas is ardent, alive, and perfectly happy to have an irresponsible love affair, while Josh Lucas is charming and affable as a husband who seems perfectly content in an open marriage. A meeting with an influential social icon gives Chloe the open door she needs to help her husband win an important appointment. Blair Brown is solid and real as the woman not all of us would want to know. The final piece in the puzzle is Rebecca, the ambitious and attractive young woman who, like Chloe, knows what she wants and how to get it.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.