Five women take to the stage to discuss the ins and outs of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked American politics and 90s culture. It just so happens that the five women in question are Hillary, Monica, Linda, Betty and Chelsea. A First Lady, an intern, a confidant, an assistant and a daughter all connected by the absent party: Bill Clinton. Devil with the Blue Dress is an analytical undressing of the affair, captured from an unmistakable 2018 perspective as Hillary declares that the scandal was the “second worst” thing to have ever happened to her. Bunker Theatre hosts the world premiere of this addictive play, written by Kevin Armento and directed by Joshua McTaggart.
Flora Montgomery is a convincing Hillary and not just because of the pantsuit. Her stoic delivery and command of the audience, and oftentimes other characters, is impressive. Daniella Isaacs is the perfect Monica as her enthusiasm for work and play pulls her into a deceivingly harmless mess. Emma Handy hams up Republican Linda Tripp’s character as she struts the stage as a mediator and antagonist, telling the audience, “let me show you the difference between a liberal woman and a conservative woman”. As Bill’s then assistant Betty, Dawn Hope wields her spectacles like an essential tool, revealing more and more about her involvement, from simple loyalty to supporting a president for the greater good of racial equality in the United States. Chelsea’s optimism, support, humour and pain is played out by the talented Kristy Philipps.
From time to time Betty, Linda and Chelsea use microphones to read the lines and play the part of Bill. They all deliver their version of the former president exceptionally and hilariously, but for me Philipps’ Bill was spot on, and it certainly garnered the most laughs thanks to her unforgiving use of mannerisms and expressions. After all, it is funny, Bill’s “character” is funny and so is his role in the scandal. His predatory flirtations with the 22 year-old intern is nauseating and disturbing but his attempts at dismissing the rumours are laughable. It feels good and cathartic to laugh at Bill. We, the audience and the characters, know something now that he didn’t know then. That in 2018, a post-Weinstein world, not only is it OK to caricature old and powerful white men, we have to – if not it’s all too depressing.
The play is a battle of voices fighting over facts, politics, sex, power and the stage itself. On numerous occasions Hillary insists, “it’s my play,” but the show is called Devil with the Blue Dress, not “Victim with the Pink Pantsuit”. As Monica points out, the scandal too bears her name and this use of language becomes a bone of contention at the end of the play. It is sexy at times too thanks to saxophonist Tashomi Balfour who accompanies the performers and the atmospheric staging in a unique way, as well as providing telephone rings and other practical embellishments.
The trouble is, the play is written and directed by men. Just as the play is carried and delivered by five remarkable women, the men who cause all the drama stay behind the scenes. It’s a contemporary An Inspector Calls where the guiltiest party is no-show. There is hope however, as the play’s poster features a “still with Her” badge and for once, or perhaps at last, Hillary gets the last word.
Devil with the Blue Dress is playing at the Bunker Theatre until 28 April 2018
Photo: Helen Murray