Mark Ludmon reviews Kevin Armento’s Devil With the Blue Dress about the Monica Lewinsky affair at The Bunker Theatre
Devil With the Blue Dress
The Bunker Theatre
Despite its all-female cast, Kevin Armento’s new political drama Devil With the Blue Dress makes no claims to meet the Bechdel test. While it satisfies the rule that it shows more than two women talking to each other, there is virtually no point when the characters aren’t talking about a man. But then that man is President Bill Clinton, and we’re talking about the famous blue dress that brought one of the most notorious scandals out of the closet.
On a bare stage with few props, the story of Monica Lewinsky’s affair is told by its key female protagonists, led by Hillary Clinton. As well as Monica herself, we see it from the perspective of their daughter Chelsea Clinton, Monica’s duplicitous Republican friend Linda Tripp and the president’s personal secretary Betty Currie. Bill himself is played by members of the cast but also a presence throughout through incidental music from a live saxophone – his signature party piece.
Switching between the two timelines of the affair itself from 1995 to 1997 and the revelations coming out in early 1998, the structure emphasises how Bill was repeatedly economical with the truth before the semen-stained blue dress forced him to confess. Creating imagined scenes and conversations alongside documented facts, Armento chooses to depict Hillary as genuinely ignorant of the affair until the dress appeared but also initially arrogant that there was no truth in the allegations. While Monica is flirtatious, the play steers us to seeing her as a victim, a 22-year-old fangirl who fell head over heels for her idol and was only drawn into the open because of Linda Tripp’s secret recordings of their phone conversations.
Sympathies are very much with Hillary and Monica, with Linda – played brilliantly by Emma Handy – introduced to us at the start with her own villainous theme tune. Dawn Hope is superb as Betty, revealing a staunch loyalty for Bill born out of her belief in his commitment to improving the lives of African-Americans. The effect of the affair on the Clinton family is highlighted by Chelsea, with Kristy Philipps as the perky teenage college freshman who quickly grows up, learning to be tough despite being devastated by the revelations about her father. As the show’s main double act, Flora Montgomery and Daniella Isaacs are excellent as Hillary and Monica, with special delight when they get to spar off each other.
With its abstract theatricality, the play allows Armento to look beyond the facts to explore different perspectives and what motivated the women in the affair, directed by Joshua McTaggart with intensity and touches of humour. However, while these are strong personalities who fight to survive, there is a danger of them coming across simply as innocent victims of a man’s thoughtless sexual appetite and lies. There is no denying there is continuing relevance in the story of a man, especially a president, abusing his power to satisfy his desires but, 20 years after the scandal broke, the play reveals few new insights for the #MeToo generation.
Running to 28 April, 2018