“A woman can be perceived as two things: an object of sex, or an object of power”, says Hillary Clinton, halfway through Devil with the Blue Dress. Monica Lewinsky adds: “Sometimes the two can co-exist.”
While some of us may be too young to remember it, we all know of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This new play tells the story of one of the world’s most famous political sex scandals through the perspective of five women surrounding America’s 42nd president: his wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea, secretary Betty, ‘a republican’ Linda, and Miss Lewinsky herself.
Each woman battles for a place on the stage, to offer their own perspective and opinions of the events, in this meta production hosted by Hillary as a trip down her own memory lane. While a saxophonist plays gentle tunes, the women take turns to retell the story of Bill Clinton’s affair on the minimalist stage.
The cast is strong, and their delivery of Kevin Armento’s entertaining script keeps the audience drawn in for the entirety of the play. Flora Montgomery pulls off a convincing Hillary Clinton, the woman we’ve all seen on tv so often over the past years, and Kirsty Philipps as Chelsea deserves a special mention for her impressions of her father.
For a story told from the point of view of the women in Bill Clinton’s life, there are quite a lot of these impressions, however, and one wonders if the play might have been stronger without any voice of the man himself.
While Hillary switches between her ‘90s- and current-day-self, many questions are raised regarding the recent revelations about white men in power, and particularly how we as a society regard and treat the women who fall for, or are abused by, that power. The real Monica Lewinsky has recently stated that the #MeToo movement has made her reconsider whether her relationship with the president – while consensual – was in fact the result of an abuse of power imbalances.
While Daniella Isaac’s Lewinsky transforms from smug into vulnerable, and Dawn Hope as Betty makes a convincing case for turning a blind eye on the president’s escapades, Hillary becomes hardened by a combination of false accusations and real humiliation.
But just when you start to wonder, towards the end, if the play is ever going to become truly emotional, it comes from the slightly unexpected corner of Chelsea, who finds herself quite alone amidst a group of fighting women and a family that’s being torn apart, and delivers a strong, touching monologue.
Devil with the Blue Dress poses many moral questions; about heroes and villains, perpetrators and victims, innocence, guilt, and blame, and most importantly, how our concepts of these have changed over the course of the past twenty years. It’s a highly interesting, entertaining and relevant flashback, with only one possible conclusion: there are no simple answers.
Merel Van ‘t Hooft