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Love, Lust & Political Intrigue


April 9, 2013

Beau Willimon's new play The Parisian Woman had an unusual inspiration. A couple of years ago, he was approached by New York's Flea Theater to adapt Henri Becque's La Parisienne (1885). But Willimon says "I had never heard of Henri Becque. Many theater-goers haven't, even in France. After reading the play" he says "I quickly fell in love with his work, and came to learn that he was arguably the first French dramatist to bring realism and naturalism to the stages of Paris."

Henri Becque
During a period of dynamic cultural change during the 19th century, Willimon says, Becque "drew from theatrical tropes familiar to French audiences—the farce, the parlor play, the comedy of manners—and turned them on their heads. In La Parisienne, he eschewed romance for obsession, he explored sex in terms of power rather than pure scintillation, and he tossed aside cartoonish archetypes and populated the play with three-dimensional souls. He did all this with biting wit and comedy…"

Willimon says his "goal was to channel Becque, not to imitate or translate him." To write a subversive, engaging piece about the art of political maneuvering, inspired by Becque.

Willimon's The Parisian Woman is a modern story of passion and political intrigue, set in the Capital Hill district of Washington, D.C. At turns both comic and dramatic, the play revolves around an unorthodox power couple, working together to climb the political ladder, in a town where "powerful friends are the only kind worth having."

Chloe is a social über-operator armed with charm, wit and sensuality. Her husband Tom is a hard-working corporate lawyer determined to become the next Attorney General. Chloe does everything in her power to help her husband, including reaching out to DC power-broker Jeanette Simpson and others. But when unexpected complications threaten to derail Tom's nomination, Chloe is driven to take drastic measures.

Beau Willimon
The Parisian Woman explores the nature of personal and political power, the volatility of passion, and the elusive nature of truth and loyalty. With Chloe, Willimon has written a formidable female protagonist, who eschews the everyday rules of polite society unapologetically and pragmatically, in favor of getting what she wants.

Director Pam MacKinnon says: "In The Parisian Woman battles are won and lost in conversation. It is a play of quick-witted people." Stylistically, it is a smart, scathing play in which words and truth are wielded as weapons.

The Political Path of Beau Willimon
Beau Willimon is no stranger to political intrigue. He's worked on several high-profile political campaigns which have informed his creative work, including Chuck Shumer's 1998 senate race, Bill Bradley's 2000 presidential race, and Hilary Clinton's 2000 senate race. But it was Howard Dean's 2004 presidential race which inspired his play Farragut North, which became the basis for the Academy-nominated film The Ides of March (co-written with George Clooney and Grant Heslov).

Willimon is also the creator and co-executive producer of Netflix's original series "House of Cards," featuring Kevin Spacy and Robin Wright, another project about power, sex, ambition, and corruption in Washington, D.C. In addition to his high-profile work in television and film, Willimon remains a committed playwright at work on new play commissions for South Coast Repertory and The National Theatre, among others. He returns to SCR after doing a 2009 NewSCRipts reading of his play Spirit Control.
Steven Weber, Dana Delany, Linda Gehringer, Rebecca Mozo and Steven Culp.

For this world premiere production of The Parisian Woman—which will anchor SCR's 16th Annual Pacific Playwrights Festival on the Argyros stage April 14-May 4—Willimon and director Pam MacKinnon have assembled a stellar creative team including actors Dana Delany ("Body of Proof") as Chloe, Steven Weber ("Wings") as Tom, Steven Culp ("Desperate Housewives") as Peter, Linda Gehringer (How to Write a New Book for the Bible) as Jeanette, and Rebecca Mozo (In the Next Room or the vibrator play) as Rebecca. The production's designers include Marion Williams (sets), David Kay Mickelson (costumes), Lap Chi Chu (lighting), and Cricket S. Myers (sound).

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