Lucas Hnath’s ‘Hillary and Clinton’ at Philadelphia Theatre Company (second review)

Presidential politics in black and white

Yes, we live in a country that has just voted for the first female presidential candidate of a major political party in its 240-year history, but we will always have writers like Lucas Hnath to remind women and blacks of their struggle in this country.  He does this in a subliminal manner in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of Hillary and Clinton.

Alice M. Gatling as Hillary and John Procaccino as Clinton. (Photo by Paola Nogueras)

In a world...

The play is set in 2008 New Hampshire in a so-called “other world,” with so-called “other people” named Bill, Hillary and Other Guy (meaning soon-to-be-President Obama). It is the night before the Democratic primary; Hillary is losing, and she decides to take an offer from the Other Guy: become vice president.

I do not know whether Hillary (Alice M. Gatling) was written to be played by a black woman, but I must admit, the message in the dialogue between her and the Other Guy (Lindsay Smiling) was nothing short of genius. After clinching the primary in New Hampshire, she tells him, “I don’t know what happened. I gave up the struggle and things just changed.” That is, she stopped fighting, so she won.

Struggle versus success?

As a black woman in the audience, I winced at that statement. First of all, if women or blacks gave up the struggle we would be sliding backwards toward more degradation than we already live with in this country. I say that the line was genius because the writing is so skillful, probably nobody besides alert feminists noticed how much regressive nonsense was shoved into this script.

For instance, why does the campaign manager, Mark (Todd Cerveris) sit on Hillary’s hotel bed and try to kiss her? What does this say about women and weakness? What message is Hnath (or director Ken Rus Schmoll) trying to send his audience with 75 minutes of making women look weak and wanting.

Hillary, who, although at the start is losing the race, is told by Mark not to call on Bill to help her on the campaign trail. She does it anyway, and the couple has an awkward reunion. She lets him know she needs money, and he feels dejected that she called for that reason. This is another jab at a woman’s inability to do things without a man’s intervention.

If you're black, step back

She tells him she is strong; he tells her she has to be mommy to the nation — show her soft side, and he’ll be the dog, the protector. What a load of crap!

The fact that they put a black woman in the role of Hillary speaks volumes about this country and what it thinks of blacks and women. What I heard from this production was that finally a white woman will maybe be president, and then a black woman may also get the chance if she just gives up the struggle. Stop fighting the system women, black women, and maybe you will win at something, but the only way you are going to win is to be a mommy and let daddy be your dog.

If I sound like a mad black woman, well yeah, this did make me mad, but that’s okay. It’s art, and it is supposed to make me feel something. Kudos to the cast for a funny production that was at least interesting to watch as it unfolded.

For Dan Rottenberg's review, click here.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.