Chicago Theater Review: HILLARY AND CLINTON (Victory Gardens Biograph Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 9, 2016

in Theater-Chicago

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL, DON’T GO

Lucas Hnath, a disconcertingly popular scribe, writes playful, pseudo-historical, and narrative-heavy dramas crammed with deliberately stilted, primer-prose language. Composed of simple sentences, Hnath’s almost childlike dialogue teems with shock-effect revelations and marinates in methodical sentimentality. He’s “repurposed” Walt Disney, Isaac Newton and Anna Nichole Smith, trivializing them for our times. Hnath’s stiffly-stylized Isaac’s Eye and Death Tax (performed respectively by Writers Theatre and Lookingglass) featured bite-size speechifying that can either take you in or leave you cold.

John Apicella (Bill) and Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hillary)There’s a little of each effect in Victory Gardens’ world premiere of Hnath’s current trifle. Set in 2008 in a parallel universe and robotically directed by V.G. Artistic Director Chay Yew, Hnath’s coyly unpinnable Hillary and Clinton does and does not refer to a certain presidential candidate and her hubbie, a former President.

Set early in the campaign, the four-person one-act takes place in set designer William Boles’s bland New Hampshire hotel room. Everything is going wrong for Cheryl Lynn Bruce’s stodgy and sullen Hillary. She’s behind in the polls and, worse, bereft of campaign funds. (This instantly tells you it’s an alternative Earth.) Severely insecure (as declining fortunes and a womanizing spouse will leave you), sad sack Hillary doubts her worth as a candidate, let alone a President like her Bill. Is any of the election-year hoopla, razzle dazzle and flapdoodle really real?

Keith Kupferer (Mark), Cherly Lynn Bruce (Hillary)

Despite the objections of her hapless campaign manager Mark (forlorn Keith Kupferer) who secretly loves her, Hillary summons her feckless husband Bill (John Apicella) to lend her money but not advice. He gives both, misogynistically suggesting that she prove she’s a female candidate by revealing some heart, even soul, and maybe crying for effect. She will be nurturing and maternal: Free to be his own alpha-male predator/protector, he will be her “attack dog” and savage Hillary’s successful opponent, who’s simply called Other Guy. (Curiously, this is Bill’s idea of making the voters feel “safe.”) Also, in this world H & C smoke cigarettes like poster patients for lung cancer. (“So what?,” you wonder–and rightly so.)

Juan Francisco Villa (The Other Guy), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hillary)Out-of-control Bill makes renegade, unscripted campaign appearances minus Hillary and manically slams and smears the Other Guy opponent. Perversely, she wins the primary. In short order Other Guy (Juan Francisco Villa) shows up and implausibly offers her the vice presidential slot if Hillary gives up Bill. To advance his case, Other Guy gives her evidence of greedy Bill’s active collusion with and dependence on African warlords.

Will Hillary, intimidated by a husband bent on his own comeback, throw Mark under the campaign bus? Will she also throw the race to please the Other Guy? Or tell Bill to stay off the primary trail indefinitely? In Hnath’s lackluster universe this particular Hillary Rodham Clinton is strangely unsure if she’s fated to equal her helpmate’s triumphs. At play’s end, gazing at the stars, she wonders if she too will be as well known as the constellations in 300 years. Less existential, Bill frets over his body odor and how much he dribbles after he urinates. (Vladimir and Estragon were far more fun.)

Keith Kupferer (Mark) and Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hillary)

Anyway that’s Hnath’s paltry play in all its preposterous inanity. Beyond its utterly improbable (in)action, Hillary and Clinton is at best a meditation on the machinery of betrayal and how ugly means undermine lofty ends. At worst (most of the 70 minutes), it’s a sexist, unenlightening, and strangely dated look at 2016’s Democratic frontrunner. It’s just Hillary Clinton, seen from a skewed angle, and her unbalanced greedster husband, eager for a new scandal and not worried about impeachment.

John Apicella (Bill), Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hillary)

You just know that there are more compelling and believable alternative universes that Hnath could have forced us to visit. With nothing at stake but stupidity itself, this half-baked concoction has zero urgency. Sadly, Yew’s four fine actors give their all to Hnath’s little. The result: a forgettable new work dumbed down to a sitcom-sensitive audience; a waste of space, time and the universe we’re stuck in.

Cheryl Lynn Bruce

photos by Michael Courier

Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Hillary), John Apicella (Bill)

Hillary and Clinton
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Ave
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 3 & 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on May 1, 2016
for tickets, call 773.871.3000 or visit Victory Gardens

for more theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Hart April 9, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Best line: “Vladimir and Estragon were far more fun.”

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Tom February 4, 2019 at 4:17 pm

Better (?) alternate universe premise: Howard The Duck.

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