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(c) Stage Scene LA

April 23, 2013

By Steven Stanley

Calculating, conniving, deceitful, devious, shrewd, sly, underhanded, and unscrupulous are just a handful of the ways audience members might describe Chloe, the title character in Beau Willimon's World Premiere play The Parisian Woman. Add beguiling, bewitching, captivating, seductive, and sexy, and you've got an idea of how this born-and-raised-in-the-USA "Parisienne" manages to be such a schemer … and get away with it, particularly when played to perfection by two-time Emmy winner Dana Delany, who manages to convince us that Chloe is all of the above … and more.

(c) Photo by Ben Horak, SCR
Like Willimon's Farragut North, The Parisian Woman gives audiences an deliciously intimate glimpse at the behind-the-scenes dealings (and double-dealings) in Our Nation's Capital, with crackerjack Broadway director Pam McKinnon firmly in the driver's seat.

This time round it's Chloe who's doing the power-brokering, the better to insure her husband's nomination as U.S. Attorney General. To do so means working her feminine wiles on more than one bedmate, and should that prove insufficient to get hubby into the President's cabinet, well what's a little blackmail between friends?

(c) Photo by Henry DiRocco, SCR
If I've been deliberately vague about just who these friends and lovers might be, it is to avoid spoiling any of the surprises Willimon has in store, beginning with a biggie, one for which credit must go to French playwright Henry Becque's 1885 drama "La Parisienne," the inspiration for Willimon's 21st Century take-off. An article at calls this plot twist in Becque's original "alone worth the price of admission." The same holds true with The Parisian Woman, and this "I didn't see that one coming!" revelation is but the first fiendishly clever plot twist Willimon has up his sleeve.

Besides paying tribute to Becque's original (and the fact that Chloe spent a particularly formative time of her young adult life in Paris), Willimon's title character is more Parisian in nature than nationality. After all, what Parisienne worth her salt wouldn't have at least one lover in addition to her legally wedded spouse, and who but a Parisienne could turn manipulation into a simple matter of feminine wiles?

(c) Photo by Henry DiRocco, SCR
And who better to play the sexy schemer than film/TV star Dana Delany, who has us in the palm of her hand from first scene to last?

With Delany as Chloe, forget any danger that Willimon's anti-heroine will turn into a two-dimensional villainess. From her star-making role as Colleen McMurphy on China Beach, girl-next-door likability has been part of Delany's appeal, and no matter how devious and manipulative Chloe may become, Delany keeps us resolutely on her side. We might not want Chloe as a potentially back-stabbing friend, but as brought by Delany to multi-layered life, we can't help rooting for the seductive conniver and cheering each stab of the knife. And for an actress who's done most of her work in the short-take, stop-and-start world of television and film, Delany proves herself a consummate theater pro in a role which has center-stage (and letter-perfect) in every single scene.

(c) Photo by Henry DiRocco, SCR
Steven Culp and Steven Weber provide bang-up support as the men in Chloe's life, while SCR favorites Linda Gehringer and Rebecca Mozo do their accustomed terrific work as a Washington DC maven and the daughter she wouldn't mind seeing elected President someday.

As always, one of the great pleasures of a South Coast Rep play is its scenic design, and Marion Williams' for The Parisian Woman is no exception. Not only is Chloe's elegant Washington townhouse spot-on, only a theater with SCR's resources at hand could have this massive set slide smoothly back upstage to allow a pair of equally detailed sets to slide in, one from house left, and the other, later, from house right, a feat no 99-seat theater could hope to replicate.

(c) Photo by Henry DiRocco, SCR
David Kay Mickelsen costumes each character to elegant, stylish Washington DC perfection, while Lap Chi Chu's lighting design and Cricket S. Myers' sound design are as good as it gets, par for the course for the LADCC Angstrom Career Achievement Award winning Chu and the Tony-nominated Myers.

Kelly L. Miller is dramaturg, Jackie S. Hill production manager, and Sue Karutz stage manager.

Reviewing Willimon's previous DC-set play, I wrote, "Rarely can I recall an audience more involved in a play's action and in the twists and turns of its plot than was the case last night. Farragut North is exciting, thought-provoking, conversation-starting theater at its best." About The Parisian Woman, let me simply say "Ditto," with Dana Delany as its powerhouse bonus.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Through May 5. Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:45, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 and 7:45. Reservations: (714) 708-5552

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