The title of playwright Dianne Nora’s fascinating new work, Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky, is disingenuous. Is it about you-know-who? Well, yes and no. There were passing references to the title character’s notoriety and enough images of and quotes from President Clinton, among others, to imply that the title is, at best, a white lie; at worst it is a tongue-in-cheek bait-and-switch. But if that is a way of getting an audience to see this incisive and adult drama, then more power to Ms. Nora who knows how to write sharply focused dialogue.
Monica, played with voluptuous tartness by the rich-voiced Caroline Kinsolving, was definitely the focus of the play and the emotions of all the other characters. Monica jumps back in forth in time to reveal her very active sex life starting with a postcoital conversation in 2005 with The Ex-Pat (Rafe Terrizzi, registering quickly as three-dimensional man) who has accidentally clobbered Monica’s head with his large ring. As she applied a frozen steak to her brow their conversation revealed both that she requested rough sex and—yes—she was that woman.
A 1985 college tryst with the shy, but verbose Youth (Jack Collard showing great range, morphing from this callow young man to a true bastard later in the play) revealed an unsophisticated Monica while a scene set on election day in 2016 shared with her significant other Sam (Martín Solá, a strong, handsome presence) presented a world-weary, sardonic version of her.
The scene set in 1990 showed yet another facet of Monica: a lesbian relationship with The Lover, a lively, lovely Cori Hundt with whom she seems to have the most mature rapport.
Each brilliantly written scene had a title—“Kinks,” “Returns,” “Work,” etc.—and was separated from the others by newsreel-style videos (designed by Caroline Trewet who also did the moody lighting) projected onto a large, hand-held piece of cloth which also served as a tablecloth, a bed sheet, etc.
The simple, but flexible, setting—a large gray rug and several stools that were used in surprising ways—was designed by Hannah Tova Wolff who directed Monica with such attention to every detail that even the nonlinear chronology made sense.
Monica is not just about one charismatic woman’s sexual journey. Her relationships served to propel her from a naïve college student to a woman in control of her life and romances while the country was on a parallel voyage.
Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky was produced by Via Brooklyn and was part of 59E59’s East to Edinburgh series.
Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky (July 25-27, 2019)
East to Edinburgh Festival 2019
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-892-7999 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 55 minutes without an intermission