In order for theatre to be political, it certainly does not have to make any truly profound statement on the state of the world. It does, however, need to say something. Monica: This Play Is Not About Monica Lewinksy falls sadly short on this mark, as I left the theatre unable to express exactly what the play was trying to say, if anything.
I left the theatre unable to express exactly what the play was trying to say, if anything.
The piece is new writing from Dianne Nora, performed by the Via Brooklyn theatre company. The scenes are interspersed by slightly incongruous projections and newsreels, which felt derivative at best and irrelevant at worst. The plot follows the life of Monica, a woman deliberately distinct from the real-life Monica Lewinsky. We cut between scenes from her childhood in the late 1990s, up to the present. A cast of five plays multiple characters, and the redeeming quality of the show was their slickness. They also took on the roles of various props, walls and stagehands and these moments were carried out with admirable professionalism. Bravo.
The script is definitely the weakest part of the show, with Nora attempting to keep dialogue as generic as possible, presumably so the real-life Lewinsky does not press libel charges. Monica is portrayed as a relatively sympathetic character in the play, but one so unbelievable and whiny that it was impossible to really get on her side, even when she was being treated in a truly awful way – for example when a former high school boyfriend propositions her to appear in a sex tape with him. The play is supposed to show snapshots of her life before and since what is constantly referred to, with painful use of syntax, as 'the situation'. But the scenes are so random that it's hard for an audience to care about her. A sequence where Monica and her long-term partner meet for the first time in a bar would have been more touching if we had more of a chance to understand their relationship and get to know them. Scenes simply had generic throwaway lines that indicated their relationship is strained because Monica is 'busy at work'.
The worst of the play is just how pleased it appears to be with itself. The actors all flourish their way around the stage, exaggerating and overcompensating to compensate for the relatively empty words which they are spouting. In some ways, I wonder if the play would have been more interesting without the Lewinksy angle: the story of a woman to whom something had happened which had marred her for life and the audience is never quite privy to the details of. The fact that we all knew the story, coupled with the heavy-handed repetition of Hillary Clinton's campaign promises and Trump's mysoginistic comments in the newsreels – presumably meant to remind us that women are still treated differently in politics than men – ruined the effect somewhat. Sadly, the play was trying too hard.