It's been nearly two decades since Bill Clinton left the White House; It’s been more than two years since Hillary was a candidate. And yet the Clintons have never left our cultural zeitgeist. They remain a source of fascination; and for some, rank hostility. Hence Broadway's newest play "Hillary and Clinton" focusing on a very specific time and place during Hillary's 2008 campaign. It's a bizarre piece of theatre, if you can even call it that, but it offers a fly on the wall perspective for Clinton watchers who just can't get enough of our former first couple.
Playwright Lucas Hnath has pulled a sneaky trick here. He wants us to believe that the Bill, Hillary, Mark, her campaign manager, and Barack who appear on the stage are not supposed to be the folks we know from planet Earth, but another set of characters just like them from some other place in our infinite universe. That presumably allows him to invent dialogue and interactions without having to attribute any factual sourcing.
He takes a deep dive into Hillary and Bill's psyche and he clearly has done his homework. Fortunately, he's got an A plus cast to work with.
Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow are, as expected, outstanding. Hillary's in New Hampshire, a basket case after coming in third in Iowa. Frustrated and defensive she has to decide whether to continue in the race, drop out or agree to be Obama's running mate. Bill has been banished from the campaign, but in Hillary's desperation, she calls him for help.
As directed by Joe Mantello, the dynamic between the two is engrossing on that bare stage. But what emerges is not so much a dramatic play as a psychological study of two brilliant and flawed people.
They clearly have a love/hate relationship, and it's fun to watch them spar. This is after all regarded as "primarily a comedy." But it also offers some sharp insights on the conundrum of gender politics and sexism.
Lucas Hnath is best known for his Tony nominated "A Doll's House, Part 2," which also starred Laurie Metcalf. That was a much better play than "Hillary and Clinton" which at 90 minutes still feels too long. But both works offer a feminist perspective on smart, headstrong women, something to ponder as six women are following Hillary's lead in the race to be our next president.