×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Legit Review: ‘The Parisian Woman’

There’s a thrilling cat fight in Beau Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” being given its world premiere at South Coast Rep. It’s so good that it draws as much blood and potentially wounds as many reputations as Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm’s big powder-room confrontation in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve.” Willimon (“House of Cards,” “The Ides of March”) writes them like they used to, and that his comedy is “inspired by” a 1885 play only adds to the fun.

The inspiration is Henri Becque’s “La Parisienne,” which brought naturalism to the Paris stage, and Willimon effectively updates the story of an avaricious political wife to contempo Washington, D.C. The Becque play is little known today, but it’s possible that Edith Wharton saw or read it before writing her social-climbing Undine Spragg character for “The Custom of the Country.” Indeed, Chloe (Dana Delany) in “The Parisian Woman” wears stiletto heels like they were combat boots in order to get her husband, Tom (Steven Weber), nominated to be attorney general.

Delany has this habit of spending more time checking out the audience than she does the other actors. No mere act of vanity, it’s the right choice. For Willimon’s play to make sense, Chloe needs to seduce us as much as she does any character, male or female, on stage. And Delany does just that with great style, confidence and beauty, which is aided in no small degree by David Kay Mickelsen’s skin-tight costumes, as well as array of stiletto heels not seen since “Sex and the City.”

An interesting aspect of Pam MacKinnon’s astute direction is that Chloe’s husband, Tom, and lover, Peter (Steven Culp), recede a bit. They’re a little dense, opaque. Delany’s Chloe is always upstaging them, and she doesn’t really meet her match until the president’s nominee for secretary of the treasury, Jeanette (Linda Gehringer), enters the scene to foil Tom’s chances for his own nomination.

Chloe tells her husband not to worry; she’ll take care of Jeanette, and she does with Eve-like precision. Where Willimon betters Mankiewicz is that Jeanette is no Holm/Karen pushover. She’s nominated for the cabinet, and Gehringer exudes power at the highest level. In a nod, perhaps, to Holm/Karen, the cat fight begins innocently with Jeanette challenging Chloe’s status in D.C. How could someone so intelligent not pursue a career of her own? That’s when Chloe lets her know she’s content being just a wife. What ensues is something more than a good cat fight. Delany doesn’t claw, she pummels.

Is “The Parisian Woman” a great play? Probably not. But it is great fun.

The Parisian Woman

(Julianne Argyros Stage, 336 seats; Costa Mesa; $70 top)

A South Coast Repertory presentation of a play in one act by Beau Willimon. Directed by Pam MacKinnon. Sets, Marion Williams; costumes, David Kay Mickelsen; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound, Cricket S. Myers. Opened April 19, 2013. Reviewed April 21. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

With: Dana Delany, Steven Culp, Steven Weber, Linda Gehringer, Rebecca Mozo.

Legit Review: 'The Parisian Woman'

More Legit

  • Signature Theatre Celebrates Millionth Subsidized Ticket

    Signature Theatre Offers $35 Subsidized Tickets, Celebrates Millionth Sold

    Just the other night, a Manhattan cab driver told Signature Theatre executive director Harold Wolpert that he couldn’t afford to take his girlfriend to a show. In response, Wolpert motioned to his theater, saying that they offer $35 subsidized tickets. The driver said he’d try it out. “It was a great moment,” Wolpert said. “We’re [...]

  • SOCRATES The Public Theater

    Tim Blake Nelson Waxes Philosophical on Writing a Play About Socrates

    Despite Tim Blake Nelson’s knack for playing folksy characters in films such as “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” in his soul lurks the heart of a classicist. Nelson, who stars in HBO’s “Watchmen” series this fall, has also penned the play “Socrates,” now running at New York’s Public Theater through June 2. Doug Hughes directs, [...]

  • TodayTix - Brian Fenty

    TodayTix Banks $73 Million to Boost Theater and Arts Ticketing App

    TodayTix, a Broadway-born mobile ticketing start-up, is looking to expand into a bigger global media and transaction enterprise with a capital infusion of $73 million led by private-equity firm Great Hill Partners. The investment brings TodayTix’s total capital raised to over $100 million, according to CEO and co-founder Brian Fenty. Part of the new funding [...]

  • Ethan Hawke, Bobby Cannavale and Griffin

    BAM Gala Marks Leadership Change, Celebrates Brooklyn as 'Cultural Center of New York'

    Wednesday’s annual gala celebrating the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) served as a poignant moment of transition for the New York stalwart of contemporary performance. As long-time artistic director Joe Melillo, who along with Harvey Lichtenstein transformed BAM into a vanguard of progressive art, prepares to pass the torch to new leadership, gathered patrons and [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    Listen: Santino Fontana on How Broadway's 'Tootsie' Was Adapted for Our Times

    Broadway’s “Tootsie” has turned into one of this season’s Tony Awards frontrunners, winning raves for its deftly funny update of potentially problematic source material — and for a firecracker cast led by Tony nominee Santino Fontana (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Frozen”), who makes his character’s transformation, from difficult actor Michael Dorsey to female alter ego Dorothy Michaels, [...]

  • Death of a Salesman review

    London Theater Review: 'Death of a Salesman'

    August Wilson famously disavowed the idea of an all-black “Death of a Salesman.” In 1996, he declared any such staging “an assault on our presence and our difficult but honorable history in America.” Arthur Miller’s antihero is no everyman, Wilson implied; Willy Loman is very specifically white. Critic John Lahr was inclined to agree: “To [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content