Devil With the Blue Dress
The Bunker Theatre, Seaview Productions and Desara Bosnja
Over a decade on from the political and personal turmoil of Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with President Bill Clinton, the play Devil with the Blue Dress gives us the story from the point of view of five women.
The play opens and closes with the words of Hilary Clinton (Flora Montgomery). There are also the words of the Clinton daughter Chelsea (Kristy Philipps), the president’s secretary Betty Currie (Dawn Hope), Monica Lewinsky (Daniella Isaacs) and her supposed friend Linda Tripp (Emma Handy) whose secret recordings helped convict Clinton.
The man himself is always present. After all, it’s about his impact on these women. But his actual appearance is played by Chelsea, Betty and Linda each giving us the Southern drawl and compulsive charm.
This time it could be their story, their reasons for behaving the way they did, their opportunity to shape the narrative rather than being bit players in the Bill Clinton story. And given the play’s proximity to the #MeToo movement, it could confidently tackle questions about the abuse of power.
But none of this really happens. It is almost as if the writer was looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Everything is distanced and sanitised.
Monica is the fan with a crush on the great man who flirts a bit, and is very loyal till the FBI strong-arms her into being a witness.
Hilary trusts Bill or turns a blind eye to his failings till she gets briefly angry and then noticing that, as the wronged woman, her poll ratings are sensational, she decides to stand by her man.
And so it goes.
It is the story we know and we don’t get much more. Sure, there is the occasional intriguing scene such as that of Betty giving her personal and political reasons for appearing to be an enabler, but they are not explored very deeply.
Apart from the Republican opportunist Tripp, the characters are treated sympathetically. Even Bill Clinton would find little to trouble him. It is as if the writer strives for a never-world neutrality.
The language itself contributes to the distancing effect. Hilary opens the show by telling the audience: “my play... exists in the space between awake and asleep. Do you know it?”
Well I didn’t and while I was spending time trying to work out what that meant I was missing stuff. Not that stuff happens very quickly. It doesn’t. And anyway you feel it’s easy to catch up since it reprises so much that you already know and that’s when you start to miss the nuggets of amusing dialogue.
Helping you miss stuff in the first half is a saxophone playing loud enough to overwhelm the dialogue.
The play isn’t terrible. There are moments you will be glad you have seen. And the acting, particularly of Kristy Philipps as Chelsea and Bill Clinton, is at times impressive.
But its greatest problem is timidity.
It is just too tame, too laid back, too lacking in any political fire. It is just an amiable glimpse through the wrong end of a telescope.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna