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Arts and Entertainment

Middling 'The Parisian Woman' Livened Up By TV Stars, Strong Cast

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Beau Willimon's new play, The Parisian Woman, offers a glimpse of unorthodox power plays in Washington, D.C. Its machinations, however, feel familiar. Although loaded with strong actors—several of whom you're likely to recognize from TV—the production is only mildly entertaining.

Chloe (Dana Delany) is content living a life filled with art and high-end restaurants as the wife of trial attorney Tom (Steven Weber). She enjoys her museums and dinner parties, but her lover Peter (Steven Culp) is getting too possessive for her taste. She changes gears from passive to active when Tom believes his campaign to become Attorney General is foundering. She meets with a highly-placed government contact, Jeanette (Linda Gehringer), and her ambitious daughter Rebecca (Rebecca Mozo), and turns out to be better at the game of politics than anyone expects.

Delany is well-cast as the coolly manipulative Chloe, effective at portraying both the cheerfully selfish socialite and the fixer underneath willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. Interestingly, Chloe suffers because of what she does, but that she's willing to suffer to achieve her goals makes her more intriguing. Weber is convincing and low-key charming as Tom; one just wishes the playwright had given him more stage time. Culp excels as the needy Peter, as the character cycles from sympathetic to simply pathetic and back again, often in the same scene.

Gehringer is terrific as the curious Jeanette, friendly but with an official hauteur due to her station, and her restaurant scene with Chloe is the highlight of the production. My only complaint with this character is that it seems that she would be sharper and more intelligent when confronted with a difficult situation, and Willimon writes her as merely angry and dithery. Mozo, one of the best young actresses in town, unfortunately gets stuck with a seriously underwritten role as Rebecca—it feels like there's an entire act missing from the play that would explain her character motivations.

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Pam McKinnon's direction is smooth and professional, and she paces the action swiftly. The thing is, what Willimon's play could use is more time. More time with the characters, more time exploring the various situations, because as it stands it doesn't delve deeply enough into the material to really register. Willimon is clearly a talented writer, and plenty of the dialogue is witty and smart. Right now, though, the play is built around a not particularly surprising twist, and while the show is enjoyable, it isn't as memorable or effective as it might be.

"The Parisian Woman" plays at South Coast Repertory through May 5. Tickets are available online.

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