The Bunker, London – until 28 April 2018
Kevin Armento’s Devil With the Blue Dress is a brutal look back at the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Joshua McTaggart directs an all-female cast in a depiction of the scandal from the women involved; Hillary Clinton, the wife (Flora Montgomery); Chelsea Clinton, the daughter (Kirsty Phillips); Betty Currie (Dawn Hope); his secretary, Linda Tripp, the confidant (Emma Handy) and Monica (Daniella Issacs), his lover.
Hillary and Monica lie at opposite sides; one is the object of power, assisting her husband with national policy and the other is the object of lust. Both crave what the other has. Armento’s play also looks at the impact he had on all these women.
Handy is excellent as Tripp, a woman who makes it her mission to bring his downfall, Phillips gives a strong performance as Chelsea a woman torn between the love for her father and disgust, and at times confusion, at his wording (“Sexual relations”?). The most complex character is Betty Currie – at first glance their relationship is purely professional but it is soon clear she is complicit in his affairs, even hiding evidence at her house after going to Lewinsky’s home to collect it and calling her “a little bitch”. Currie isn’t going to let that woman bring down “America’s first black President”, with his sax, his southern charm and the press’ attacks on him that sees society liken him to America’s underdog: African-Americans.
Montgomery is simply amazing as Hillary, she isn’t afraid to shy away from that cold and clinical demeanour and this play allows us to see another side; the humiliated wife and mother who considers running away from it all, who asks herself what her husband has brought to partnership apart from philandering and power imbalance.
Issacs as Lewinsky gives a feisty portrayal of a woman who was no doubt ambitious but also developed feelings for Clinton; with her apparent vengeance forced upon her. The play continually asks whether these women had a choice. There’s a particularly moving section in the second half where she reveals she only ended up with Bill because she passed the bar in Arkansas and failed it in Washington. An affair which would tear many apart forces them together to ensure her dreams of becoming President are met. As history shows, this event only becomes the second worst moment in her life.
Usually I would be dismissive of white men writing about women but Armento is as sympathetic as he is cruel, with no fear in depicting the vulnerability, the anger and lack of sisterhood (Lewinsky is thrown under the bus when this becomes her scandal, not Clinton’s) but also the love and support when the going gets tough between mother and daughter. As a production it can often feel a bit smug and self-knowing, breaking the fourth wall, symbolic bare feet and symbolic blue lights (for the dress, for the Democrats who knows) but manages to tell a well-known story from points of view we know and views we don’t. I also loved the decision to depict Bill through Phillips, Handy and Hope as his presence is important, it as much his story as it is their’s, but it shouldn’t continue to overshadow these women.