‘The Parisian Woman’: Uma Thurman lends ‘intelligence,’ ‘glamour’ to new Beau Willimon drama

In a season already chock-full of starry Broadway debuts, Nov. 30 might have marked the biggest to date as Oscar-nominated Uma Thurman (“Pulp Fiction”) bowed at the Hudson Theatre in the new drama “The Parisian Woman,” penned by Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”).

Directed by Tony-winning Pam MacKinnon (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), “The Parisian Woman” centers on Chloe (Thurman), a scheming Washington, D.C. socialite who manipulates a trio of old and new acquaintances (Blair Brown, Philipa Soo, and Marton Csokas) to try to secure a political promotion for her husband Tom (Josh Lucas). In keeping with the setting of the play, Willimon has included numerous topical references to President Donald J. Trump’s administration.

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“The Parisian Woman” received mostly mixed-to-negative reviews from critics.  In one of its positive notices, Joe Dziemianowicz (Daily News) calls the drama a “curvy, contemporary soap-opera,” brought to life by MacKinnon’s “assured, well-acted and handsomely designed staging,” starring a “striking” Thurman with an “aura of smarts and strength” and an “I’ve-got-this-covered confidence and flinch-proof gaze,” and a “vibrant” Brown. Despite all of the highs, he does note that Willimon’s dialogue comes across “too stiff to sound natural.” Jesse Green (New York Times) similarly praises Thurman for her “intelligence and… innate glamour,” which “make it possible to care about someone you do not believe in,” also singling out Brown, whose “40-plus years on the stage provide her with an arsenal of theatrical weapons she can deploy at any moment.” Despite the acting highlights and Derek McLane’s “sumptuous set” and Jane Greenwood’s equally “sumptuous” costumes, Green doesn’t find much to like in the play itself, saying “nothing in this play — not one line or ginned-up plot turn — feels real,” which leaves director MacKinnon “forced to create focus however she can, mostly by having the actors move back and forth a lot.”

Not all critics were equally enamored with Thurman’s Broadway bow, though. Barbara Schuler (Newsday) similarly criticizes the play as a “thin, slight work that doesn’t really accomplish much,” remarking that Thurman seems “shaky and occasionally ill at ease,” though she does applaud Brown, who “deliciously delivers some of the play’s sharpest lines.” Sara Holdren (Vulture) also finds Thurman’s performance lacking, claiming that she “cannot transcend the flatness of the material she’s been given,” which she characterizes as “monotonous and frequently stilted.” Holdren does highlight Soo, who “gives the play’s most appealing performance… throwing herself into the role with an eager, natural sincerity,” yet despite her and the rest of the cast’s star-wattage, she finds the overall play “not sparkly but wooden and smug.”

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The Tony nominating committee might similarly struggle to find much to laud in “The Parisian Woman,” which seems unlikely to break into the Best Play race. Not only will its middling reviews stand in its way, but its scheduled end date in March might mean any buzz it could maintain through the winter will be muted by newer show openings. Director Pam MacKinnon will probably not fare any better. Despite her previous Tony win and one other nomination (“Clybourne Park”), her subsequent four Broadway outing have not landed with the committee and this one seems like it will follow that predominant trend.

On the acting side, the three women of the play have an advantage over their two male counterparts, who didn’t seem to elicit much attention from critics. Despite Thurman’s marquee appeal, Blair Brown seems most likely to score a nomination. Even critics who didn’t appreciate the play found something to admire in her performance, plus “The Parisian Woman” marks her homecoming to the Broadway stage after a nearly two-decade absence. When she last appeared, she picked up a Tony for Featured Actress for “Copenhagen” in 2000. Thurman shouldn’t be ruled out, especially given some of the acclaim she received, but it often takes a more universally-beloved turn for Tony nominators to acknowledge a star from the large or small screen. Finally, Soo stands a slim chance at a nomination to follow up on her first career bid for “Hamilton,” but just like last season, when she was snubbed for her lead role in the unpopular musical “Amélie,” she would have to transcend her less-than-stellar material.

In the design categories, Derek McLane, who contributed the scenic design, has far and away the best chance at a bid. Critics seemed to love his sophisticated D.C. townhouse sets, plus he has a solid track record at the Tonys with four nominations and one win (“33 Variations,” 2009). McLane will have another play in contention this season with the revival of “Children of a Lesser God,” though, so he may need to be wary that the small committee will split their support of him between the two productions. The legendary Jane Greenwood should never be ruled out of the conversation either, as her incredible 21 Tony nominations attest. After 20 losses, she finally took home her first competitive trophy last season for “The Little Foxes,” and she previously received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. Lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski has a history with the Tonys, too, with five nominations and a win for “The Producers” back in 2001, but critical chatter about on this aspect of the production seems quiet, so he may not wind up in the running.

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