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Hillary and Monica:
The Winter of Her Discontent

A Thousand Variations on a Lie Told Once

Gerald's Method

Part of the
9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Hillary and Monica: The Winter of Her Discontent
Heidi J. Dallin and Jacqueline Kriste.
Photo by Shawn Henry.

Hillary and Monica: The Winter of Her Discontent

You know how you sometimes have to excuse performers playing historical personages, because they either don't look or behave like the people they're supposed to be? Forget it this time. The actresses playing the title characters in Yvette Heyliger's Hillary and Monica: The Winter of Her Discontent, at the Workshop Theater Mainstage, bear frightening resemblances to Mrs. Clinton and Miss Lewinsky - in both appearance and manner.

Heidi J. Dallin, as the former First Lady, speaks in the pinched tones that seem to emanate from behind her tightly coiffed bob of golden hair, making her inside and out a flawless representation of fierce femininity mating with battlefield business. By contrast, Jacqueline Kristel, as one of recent history's most infamous other women, is curvaceous of body and voice, young but radiating experience beyond her years, as simultaneously intriguing and repulsive as the original.

As for the play they're in... Does it really matter? Or need to be explained? Heyliger, who also directed, has imagined what might have happened had the women met in the White House's China Room in 1996, well before Lewinsky's affair with President Bill Clinton went public. As such, there's a lot of supposition (what did Hillary know and when did she know it?), game-playing (the two spar in a mock trial), and exploration of what it means to be a woman on either side of the presidential fence.

But because Heyliger's sympathies are clearly with Hillary - crew members take collections after the show to pay off Clinton's recent campaign bills - their interactions seldom evince much bite. Hillary is the progressive intellectual, as aware of her prideful political place as she is her role in forever changing the function of First Lady, while Monica is the sex-minded child (she refers to the seat of power as the "Oral Office") who really should have given up while she was behind. When Presidential Secretary Betty Currie and even the President himself (Vanessa Shaw and Jeff Pierce, both also doing expert evocations) show up, it's more to push along the Hillary agenda than examine the central conflict in a wider context.

Anyone hoping for electrifying answers to the most vexing questions of the first Clinton presidency (some of which lingered into the second attempt) won't find them here. And the impersonations, exacting though they are, only make you thirst for more vivid emotional portraits of two women who were, in the mid 1990s, the most powerful in America.

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: 9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival




A Thousand Variations on a Lie Told Once

The most compelling part of Stacey Lane's A Thousand Variations on a Lie Told Once," is its title - but only after you've waded far enough into this murky play to understand its irony. The problem isn't a falsehood that mutates as it's told and retold, but that there's a very real possibility the original truth has been forgotten.

The issue of concern is a set of letters, written by a dying father to his three young daughters, explaining everything they needed to know about him, their mother, and life in general. The letters have been missing for over two decades - assuming they ever existed at all. The two oldest daughters (Laura Siner and Diánna Martin) are sure they do, their mother (Linda S. Nelson) is sure they don't, and the youngest daughter (Jane Cortney) isn't sure of anything. All that is known is the four have been fighting for years, which threatens to complicate the Christmas Eve they're all spending together - with mom's disagreeably agreeable new fiancé (William Laney).

Lane's setup is solid and her structure thoughtful, which helps keep your interest piqued until everyone sorts through all the mendacity. But her fondness for early obfuscations and later rocky twists and untwists later lead the storyline to feel more mannequin-manipulated than organic. Director Brad Fryman has given the show an attractively homespun feel, but hasn't found the script's natural rhythms. Every performance is cursed with the jitters, the actors operating at too elevated a state of alert to convince us these people could have survived 20 years without strangling each other.

The play is best when it unfolds naturally, when its characters discover within themselves their unique contributions to fracturing their faded family. But their attempts to reconstruct what they've lost are too often muffled by Lane and Fryman, who apparently desire for them to reach their conclusions long before they - and we - are ready. Developing relationships, like revealing and repairing long-festering wounds, requires time and care - A Thousand Variations could do well with more of them, and fewer secrets to shuffle.

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: 9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival




Gerald's Method

Any regular attendee is probably aware of theatre's therapeutic properties. But the funny thing about them is how they vanish in clouds of self-indulgence - playwrights and actors need to have more on their minds than merely themselves if they want to connect with anyone else. This is the twofold lesson of Daniel Gallant's flummoxing Gerald's Method.

The playwright, also responsible for the fly-by-night direction, stars as Gerald, a renowned actor slumming in a university teaching job, where he must help two of his students cope with a classmate's violent death. Gerald's tactic: to get Cynthia (Grey Garrett) and Reid (Joshua Rivedal) to lose themselves in their craft by improvising scenes from his life.

If you can prevent yourself from puzzling over the premise, you might witness in those improvisations accusations of artlessness, infidelity, and statutory rape, which (of course) tell us more about the actors than they do the enacted. And if you can keep from blinking (or closing your eyes for other reasons) during the play's final minutes, you might also discover an explanation (however improbable) for why Gerald is tormenting his charges.

What you won't find, however, is a point. Gallant provides scant details about either his characters or the characters they play, something that's not aided by his stony-faced, declarative delivery or Garrett and Rivedal's bewildered line readings. Worse, though Gallant establishes reality, memory, and theatre as divergent dimensions of his pseudo-story, he never ties them together; what we're supposed to take away from this exercise, other than Gerald's vague tyrannical behavior, must remain a mystery.

At least Michel Jerome Faulkner, the show's lighting designer, helps by granting us his impressions of when we're in Gerald's present-day classroom and when we're in the far reaches of his mind. The play, alas, is equally stultifying in both locales - if there's something profound about Gerald's Method, it's Gallant, not Faulkner, who needs to shed additional light on it.

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: 9th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival