“Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy with a Somewhat Happy Ending” is that all-too-rare political play that merrily ignores all the expectations and opinions around it. Far from whipping the dead horse of the Clinton campaign, Wendy Weiner’s clever dissection of the woman who would be president offers a refreshingly funny and unexpected interpretation of HRC’s life in politics by taking the form of a Greek tragedy. Tongue firmly in cheek, Weiner knits together an engagingly contradictory collection of Washington insider anecdotes and Greek myths — it’s the sort of thing you might dream up if you fell asleep watching “Clash of the Titans” and reading the Starr Report.
Weiner’s enjoyably dumb comedy is helped immeasurably by its leads, especially Mia Barron and Darren Pettie. The two thesps play the former First Couple without even an aftertaste of irony or cuteness, giving the Clintons’ initial romantic encounters a genuine sweetness and then letting Weiner’s deadpan gags speak for themselves.
Julie Kramer directs for laughs and works well with what Anne Bogart memorably dubbed “the aesthetics of stupid” — those frequently funny representational effects that get the point across simply and well (a character who incurs the wrath of Hillary is magically transformed into a small stuffed cow, for example).
One of the coolest things about “Hillary” is that slight tickle you get in the back of your brain every time our heroine interacts with the gods. Hillary swears to serve Athena (a very funny Heidi Armbruster as the “goddess of wisdom, victory and olives”) in order to triumph intellectually in a man’s world. But as she helps her mortal charge navigate the world of law and politics, another goddess, Aphrodite (Victoire Charles, both silly and sexy), decides Hillary hasn’t been paying enough attention to her, cursing the future Mrs. Clinton with a doomed love.
This, give or take a supreme being, is the plot of Euripides’ “Hippolytus,” and it’s only the first of the Washington/Olympus hybrid stories Weiner tells over the 95-minute course of the show. The cross-pollination has a pleasingly goofy effect on a part of the ’90s political scene most will be loath to revisit. When, for example, a deceived Hillary swears on the gods that she believes her husband to be innocent of any wrongdoing with Monica Lewinsky, we don’t see news analysis ad nauseam — we see Bill, flabbergasted, pick up the phone and demand of his secretary, “Bring me goats. Lots of ’em.”
The only real objection to “Hillary” is that it ends right before we get to the good stuff. There’s no racial tension with Bill’s old supporters defecting to Obama, no Snipergate and no endless campaigning for the nomination, which is actually more of a loss than it sounds. That disappointment, however, is one of the highest compliments you can pay this show: After an hour-and-a-half of re-airing the dirty laundry of one of the most overanalyzed figures in politics, who’d have thought we’d be sorry to see the show end?