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Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, both two-time Tony Award winners, will team up on Broadway to play the power couple who have been a prominent part of the American political landscape for the past quarter-century in Hillary and Clinton.
The play by Lucas Hnath is a four-hander set in New Hampshire during the 2008 Democratic primaries, as Hillary Rodham Clinton, her chief strategist Mark J. Penn and her husband Bill Clinton butt heads over whether bringing in the former president will be a liability or an asset in HRC’s troubled campaign to secure the nomination for a White House run. Her opponent, Barack Obama, is the play’s unnamed fourth character, referred to only as “The Other Guy.”
Rising-star playwright Hnath made his Broadway debut in 2017 with A Doll’s House, Part 2, which has gone on to become the most-produced play of the current theater season in America. The witty response to Ibsen won Metcalf the first of two consecutive Tonys, for lead actress in a play. She followed with a featured actress win this year for Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. Both those plays were presented on Broadway by Scott Rudin, who also is producing Hillary and Clinton.
Hnath’s new play is a thematic cousin to A Doll’s House, Part 2 in its examination of the knotty complexities and gender dynamics of marriage, touching on the limitations of experience and inevitability in its timely look at an American dynasty in crisis. It premiered at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre in 2016 but has been substantially reworked since then and now bears little resemblance to that earlier version.
Rudin has been a strong supporter of new plays by contemporary American writers on Broadway, and this season is shaping up to be a boom time for original works.
“Lucas’ play is that rare kind of blow-the-door-off-its-hinges new work that I will always respond to and want to present,” Rudin told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a political play — but not in the way I think anybody will expect. It treats the Clintons like Shakespeare treated real people in his history plays — it is both fundamentally truthful and also wildly imaginative. It’s not in any way a docudrama or a work of nonfiction but rather an exploration of power and how it works, not only in the canvas of a political campaign but inside an enduring marriage.
“It’s funny and smart and intensely theatrical and, I think, very moving,” added Rudin. “It has that particular kind of energy of the best backstage dramas — it’s a deep dive into a pivotal moment we think we know a lot about, but that in fact we actually know very little about. I found it both shrewd and, in its way, revelatory in the way it posits a behind-the-curtain look at how history might have occurred.”
The play starts previews March 16 ahead of an April 18 opening at a Broadway theater to be announced, along with casting of the remaining roles. The production will be eligible for 2019 Tony Awards consideration, giving Metcalf a shot at three in a row. The play will feature set design by Chloe Lamford, costumes by Ann Roth and lighting by Hugh Vanstone.
Lithgow has been nominated for six Tonys, winning for featured actor in a play for his 1973 Broadway debut in The Changing Room, and for lead actor in a musical in 2002 for Sweet Smell of Success. He took home his sixth Primetime Emmy last year, winning for his performance as Winston Churchill on Netflix’s The Crown. Among upcoming screen projects, Lithgow will play ousted Fox News chief Roger Ailes in Fair and Balanced, Jay Roach’s film about the women who spoke out against the toxic male culture at the cable network.
Metcalf received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress this year for Lady Bird. The three-time Emmy winner appears on ABC’s Roseanne spinoff The Conners, which has its series premiere Oct. 16. She will be featured in the voice cast of Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 4, currently in production for a June 2019 release.
Alongside Hillary and Clinton, Rudin’s incoming shows as lead producer this season include Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, with Elaine May, Michael Cera, Lucas Hedges and Joan Allen; Aaron Sorkin’s new adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Jeff Daniels; the return of Metcalf’s fellow Three Tall Women Tony winner Glenda Jackson, playing the title role in a gender-blind King Lear; and Taylor Mac’s political comedy Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, starring Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin.
In addition to the plays by Hnath, Mac and Sorkin, the 2018-19 Broadway season includes new work from Young Jean Lee (Straight White Men), Theresa Rebeck (Bernhardt/Hamlet), Tarell Alvin McCraney (Choir Boy), Christopher Demos-Brown (American Son), James Graham (Ink), Jez Butterworth (The Ferryman), Lee Hall (Network) and newcomers Jeremy Karen, David Murrell and Gordon Farrell (The Lifespan of a Fact), among others.
This represents a sharp contrast to last season, when there were barely enough new nonmusicals produced to fill out the best play category at the Tonys.
“It’s an incredible season for new plays, and a great time for American playwriting — not just on Broadway, but everywhere,” said Rudin, who also has new plays from Adam Rapp and Aleshea Harris in the pipeline for next season. “I can’t think of another time like this in recent memory. You’d have to go back to the early great era at the Royal Court or the heyday of Joe Papp at the Public to find anything resembling the moment we’re in right now. It’s thrilling.
“It feels like the theater is finally delivering what, at its best, only the theater can deliver — a vigorous, tough-minded conversation about right now, a response to how we live and what it means to be in the world we are in, and an actual open-hearted theatrical argument about the state of our particular nation. We haven’t had it for so long, and it was once the baseline of what Broadway could and did offer so brilliantly.”
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