Monica Lewinsky: a name practically dripping with sex, shame, pity…a whole range of emotions that have been preserved in the modern American collective memory since the jaw-dropping political scandal of the century, when President Bill Clinton was found to be having an affair with his 22-year-old intern.
But into our even more recent collective memory has come a new understanding of the complicated culture of going viral, what it means to lose your privacy to the public eye – especially without intending to do so – and, most importantly, the systemic abuse of women in our society. So when I read about Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky, I was intrigued. Much has been done in recent years to reframe those infamous events of the Clinton presidency through a modern lens, in a world that is still grappling with the concept of the “Me Too” movement.
Based on the show’s title and the promises of the press release – “a highly personal look at how men and women are treated differently” – I was hoping for a nuanced exploration of the sexualization and demonization of women in American culture, and expecting a representation of Monica Lewinsky as the linchpin. But the actual content of of Monica didn’t quite meet my expectations.
That’s not to say that the show isn’t worth seeing. Monica Lewinsky’s story is a fascinating one, and if you haven’t put any thought into it beyond the cultural habit of attaching some rather insulting epithets to her name, then the scenes crafted by Dianne Nora are an excellent way to explore a different perspective. Caroline Kinsolving as the titular Monica has an admirable performance, portraying her character with dignity and intelligence.
Monica has the feel of a romantic comedy, but with a particularly dark origin story. We meet Monica throughout various chronologically random scenes from her life. Her full name is never mentioned, but the clues about her life are more than enough to give her away as the real deal, rather than a more metaphorical Monica. The details of her (I’m assuming imagined) personal life are laid bare, though like her last name, the Clintons or the scandal are never explicitly talked about. We follow her through everything from an awkward teenage sexual encounter to the night of the 2016 election, her eyes glued to the TV screen as her husband urges her to change the channel. Over and over, we see how every aspect of her life – specifically, her romantic interactions with people – are following by the looming specter of her public shame, a type of infamy that would be imagine oneself into.
My main qualm with Monica: This Play is Not About Monica Lewinsky is that it betrays its subtitle. This play is nothing but a play about Monica Lewinsky. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Monica Lewinsky, in and of herself, represents more than one titanic cultural issue that modern Americans – even those who didn’t live through the Clinton sex scandal – are still struggling with. Sex, public shaming, mistreatment of women – these are topics that we all have complicated thoughts about, both as individuals and as Americans who are part of a national, ongoing story, in which how we remember people and events is constantly being debated. Monica Lewinsky is a woman – and represents a uncountable number of women – who deserves to have her story retold.