Playwright Lucas Hnath is on a bit of a “what if” kick lately, following his recent “A Doll’s House, Part 2” with a look into two of our most famous political figures. While I shied from his multiple universe framing device, he nails the insight inside one of the most famous marriages of all time.
He sets the play in a nearly empty hotel room in New Hampshire on the eve of the Democratic primary in 2008. We already know the result of that contest and many more to come, but the suspense is not the political contest, the compelling part is the brilliant insight inside the characters.
Laurie Metcalf portrays Hillary and John Lithgow, Bill Clinton. As the script advises, they never try to copy or imitate the actual mannerisms or mimic their well known personas. Instead, their natural demeanor serves to provide a cleaner and truer insight into their lives and their souls. We don’t need Rich Little verisimilitude, that would only intrude in finding the truth. And these two performances are breathtaking in their tone, simplicity and depth.
With the help of Joe Mantello’s excellent direction we dive deep into the mind of the woman overqualified to be president, but destined to always be denied. Part of that is tied up with her relationship with Bill, part of it is her struggle against the perceptions of society that militate against it. It is as if Mr. Hnath has created a new Cassandra myth for our times and our country.
Excellent work is turned in by actor Zak Orth as her frustrated ad frazzled campaign manager Mark and by Peter Francis James as someone named Barack. But let’s be honest, the real attraction here are the titular titled couple that is such a part of our world. They are wonderfully illuminated and highly worth the trip to spend an evening with. Get there before this play closes in on Sunday (it was the second post-Tony Awards early closing notice victim).