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Now Opening: ‘Hillary and Clinton’ Starring Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

Lucas Hnath’s new play fictionalizes two highly public figures

In each of the past two Broadway seasons, Laurie Metcalf has taken home a Tony Award. In 2017, she won for Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s Life, Part 2 as Best Actress in a Play, and in 2018 for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women as Best Featured Actress in a Play. No one had ever done that before in those categories in all of the 72-year history of the Tonys…but then again, this is Laurie Metcalf. Currently about to open as half the pair in the aforementioned Hnath’s new play Hillary and Clinton, she has been galvanizing audiences ever since her New York stage debut Off-Broadway in the 1984 revival of Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead. Since then, she has turned in a number of great performances not only on Broadway, but in Los Angeles, Chicago and London. Last year also brought her first Academy Award nomination as Saoirse Ronan’s mom in Lady Bird. And of course, on television, she has portrayed Jackie Harris on ABC’s Roseanne since it began in 1988 (three consecutive Emmys), and is still playing the part in the newly titled (and decidedly non-Rosanne version) The Connors.

Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow star in ‘Hillary and Clinton’ (Photo: ‘Hillary and Clinton’)

Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow star in ‘Hillary and Clinton’ (Photo: ‘Hillary and Clinton’)

Metcalf’s co-star in Hillary and Clinton is John Lithgow, himself no slouch in the awards department. Receiving his first Tony Award as Best Featured Actor in a Play in 1973 for his Broadway debut in The Changing Room, he won his second twenty-nine years later as Best Actor in a Musical in 2002’s Sweet Smell of Success. Over the past forty-six years, Lithgow has also managed to grab six Emmy Awards, most notably for the Netflix series The Crown (as Winston Churchill), Showtime’s Dexter and NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun. All that is in addition to two Academy Award nominations (back-to-back), for The World According to Garp and Terms of Endearment. All in all, a truly spectacular career.

Now these two powerhouses, under the direction of two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, will be battling it out as “versions” of Hillary and Bill Clinton in Hnath’s play, first produced in 2016. The playwright’s inspiration came about while watching C-SPAN during the 2008 presidential primaries, when Hillary Clinton was battling it out with Barack Obama on what was originally supposed to be her smooth path to the Democratic nomination. Setting the play in an “alternate universe” (as the show’s creatives are calling it) leaves room for the audience to make up its own mind about what feels right in the dialogue and situation, which takes place in a hotel room on the eve of a major primary. Hnath himself has been unsure of what reaction it will bring out in audiences, since so much has happened in the political timeline of the nation since he first created it, as he told Variety in a recent interview: “In rehearsals, we might sometimes be forgetting that there are parts of this play that are going to get a very loud reaction. It’s voicing some things that maybe people have been feeling, and to be able to say it in a big room with people gathered together in the same space, it might create a kind of conversation.”

For anyone who saw his Tony-nominated A Doll’s Life, Part 2, Hnath doesn’t shy away from confrontational conversation (that was the entire play among its four characters). And like that one, Hillary and Clinton also features a quartet. Rounding out its cast are Zac Orth (Lincoln Center’s Suburbia) as Mark Penn, Hillary’s campaign manager and Peter Francis James (2017’s Broadway revival of Present Laughter), playing someone named “Barack.”

Perhaps the key to whether you might get on board this journey with these actors, playwright and director, might have to do with Laurie Metcalf’s take on the experience so far: “There are a few lines at the end of the play that are haunting to me, because we’ve seen the ten years that these characters have not seen yet…It makes them seem vulnerable, because we know what they don’t know.”

For more of the best of Broadway, check out our list of the Top Shows in New York in April 2019.

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