If avid theatergoer Hillary Clinton were to find herself in the John Golden Theatre this Broadway season, she may not find the kind of reception she’s used to. The former presidential candidate and her former presidential husband are the pseudo-subjects of playwright Lucas Hnath and director Joe Mantello’s Hillary and Clinton, starring Laurie Metcalf as Hillary and John Lithgow as Bill. While the 90-minute play opens with the disclaimer that all onstage action is set in an alternate reality not dissimilar to our own, it’s also set in New Hampshire 2008 during Hillary Clinton’s presidential primary campaign against Barack Obama. It dramatizes imagined conversations between Hillary and Bill — and stop-ins from Obama (Peter Francis James) and chief strategist Mark Penn (Zak Orth) — from behind closed doors, many of them increasingly unflattering.
Speaking with Vulture last night at the show’s opening, Lithgow admitted that he thinks it’d be a “tough” night of theater for the Clintons. “I think it would be a hard evening for them,” he said.
One argument between Mark and Bill, for instance, escalates to the strategist yelling to the former president that the world will remember him for nothing more than “fucking around.” Hillary later adds that Bill will just be remembered for his personality, and “that’s a pretty lousy thing to be remembered for.”
“It is very much about the tensions of a marriage, especially a marriage under the intense pressure of a political campaign,” Lithgow said. “A marriage with a history of all that has been out there — it’s not like they have any secrets from each other anymore. And yet, they’re indispensable to each other; they’re devoted to each other.”
Lithgow himself is a “big fan” of the Clintons, both of whom he’s met when they’ve attended his previous Broadway outings, “a really warm, wonderful occasion.” He even campaigned for Hillary’s bid in 2008 and 2016. “I was devastated when she lost the last election,” he said.
So while Hillary and Clinton may be a challenging piece of theater for its real-world inspirations, Lithgow posits that they still “might be pleased. It’s certainly a very good play and it’s beautifully done. I think the real problem would be the audience sitting around them … The audience brings all their information about the Clintons to the event, and we’re just, in a way, surprising them by doing our version of it.”