Critic’s Pick: Review: In ‘Hillary and Clinton,’ Codependence, and, Yes, Camaraderie

Theater

It is here that Hillary, who is convinced she’ll lose the forthcoming primary, discusses strategy with her campaign manager, Mark (a perfectly slobby Zak Orth), and a jeans-wearing Bill — who appears, in an inspired entrance, filling the doorway like a space-clogging behemoth out of Dr. Seuss.

There is a fourth character, too. His name is Barack (Peter Francis James, shiny with dangerously amiable professionalism), and he has an offer to make. (How Hillary transforms herself physically for this meeting, with a little help from Bill, is one of the slyly matter-of-fact bits of stagecraft with which the production abounds.)

Even though some of what happens here is pure fiction, I doubt you’ll be surprised by anything that’s said. The scenes between Hillary and Bill, in particular, feel like fairly obvious externalizations of common speculations about their prototypes’ relationship.

What gives these encounters poignancy is how Mr. Hnath and Mr. Mantello have recontextualized them as a sort of every marriage. Yes, this husband and wife are two major politicians discussing subjects that could determine the fates of nations.

But what we see, above all, is a garden-variety case of spousal codependency that is both rather touching and alarming. Petulant, self-absorbed and terrified of no longer being useful, Mr. Lithgow’s very funny, pathetic Bill is, in many ways, a thoroughly typical husband of his generation.

Hillary, who notes that even when they talk about her it’s still about Bill, says at one point, “I want to stay in this marriage because I want to stay in it, because I get more out of it than I lose — but Bill, every second that passes I see myself losing more than I gain.”

Ms. Metcalf brings an uncanny mix of sorrow, rage and wry fatalism to that declaration, and it thrums with the painful acknowledgment of a vast potential that will never be fully realized. This is Hillary’s life as it was, is and apparently ever will be, even in an alternative universe.

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