To paraphrase Robert De Niro’s observation in Casino, that Vegas does for wise guys what Lourdes does for humpbacks and cripples, then Broadway does the same for film stars, rejuvenating and legimitizing them after career setbacks. The last time Oscar nominee Uma Thurman was onstage was in 1999, when she appeared in a stylish (and unsuccessful) revival of The Misanthrope. Classically equipped co-star Roger Rees had a much easier time of it than she did, and she returned to Hollywood and peak Uma in Kill Bill. In her Broadway debut, she’s neither humpback nor cripple, and looks smashing in some fashionable ensembles via the great costume designer Jane Greenwood, in a play that recalls one of her best movies–reoriented.
That would be Dangerous Liaisons (1988), where she played the innocent destroyed by guile. Here she graduates to something resembling the devious Glenn Close part. But Chloe, a would-be Washington, D.C. hostess, is also something of a blank, with no particular politics and few apparent interests except minding her ambitious husband, Tom (Josh Lucas), as he jockeys for a federal judgeship in the current administration. The play, by House of Cards creator Beau Willimon, is very au courant, and seemed to have been updated the very week I saw it, with fresh references. (Like a rash of Trump appointees, Tom, a tax attorney, has few credentials.) But the show, inspired by 19th century French drama and reworked since its 2013 debut at South Coast Repertory, traffics in more timeless intrigue. Chloe is carrying on an affair with a banker, Peter (Marton Csokas), who may be of some help to Tom’s aspirations, and has also beguiled the new chief of the Federal Reserve, Jeanette (Blair Brown). Or is it bamboozled? Jeanette’s daughter, Rebecca (Phillipa Soo), a Harvard Law graduate, has a role to play in all this, as the plot thickens.
Or, rather, thins out–toward the end of this 85-minute drama, a big twist attempts to wrench what was a mild comedy of manners into something more substantive. It doesn’t work. Thurman nails the basics but Willimon and director Pam McKinnon haven’t done enough to deepen the undercurrents swirling around the passive Chloe, and the climactic reveals are forced. (It doesn’t help that while you’re forgetting the show you’re thinking less of the capitol and more of the sexual harassment scandal, which the actress, a “first lady of Miramax,” promises revelations about, and the author, a close associate of Kevin Spacey’s, has tried to disentangle himself from.) It’s not badly done, with Brown squeezing the full tartness from her lines, Soo dropping the cuteness from her starring role in the flop Amelie musical, and the men suitably craven in the vicinity of the unknowable, possibly quite calculating Chloe. Derek McLane has crafted a handsome pair of sets for this drawing room melodrama, an up-to-the-minute throwback to a different era of Broadway, where shows like this were more the norm. Nowadays, TV, including the TV of its playwright, has rendered The Parisian Woman superfluous.