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Friday, 24 August, 2001, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Lewinsky tapes on stage
By entertainment correspondent Tom Brook in New York

Linda Tripp's notorious taped phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky, which were used as ammunition in the move to impeach President Clinton, have been dramatized and brought to the New York stage.

In a small fringe Manhattan theatre two actresses dress up as caricatures of Lewinsky and Tripp to act out the women's extensive phone chats.

Everything is discussed from endless hairstyling tips to how Lewinsky should handle her charged relationship with the President.

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky: Show is unlikely to help her reputation
The production, called Snatches, was written and directed by Laura Strausfeld, who pored over 2,000 pages of phone conversation transcripts to select the verbatim dialogue she wanted to include in her play.

Every word uttered on stage was actually said in real-life by either Monica Lewinsky or Linda Tripp.

Na´ve

Strausfeld sees the play as "an entertaining, comic story of a tragic personal betrayal".

The reputation of neither woman will benefit from this production but Lewinsky emerges as more likeable, although she is na´ve and girlish and at times behaves like the goofy star of a TV sitcom.

One phone call reveals her giddy with embarrassment because she had blurted out the words "I love you butthead" to President Clinton.

A few minutes later we hear Lewinsky, who is considering a high-level job at the United Nations, candidly confessing: "I'm clueless about the UN."

Jean Taylor, the actress who plays Lewinsky, finds audiences often do a double-take when they first encounter the dialogue.

Linda Tripp
Linda Tripp is portrayed as a "sneering snitch"
"Friends say they listen to it and laugh, and then have a second reaction - 'oh it's real!'" says Taylor.

She adds that the piece also has voyeuristic appeal because it feels like you are eavesdropping on a private conversation.

The play presents Lewinsky as a petulant soul annoyed that she cannot make contact with the President who she views as if he was an ordinary run-of-the-mill boyfriend, and not the nation's chief executive.

Betrayal

Her comments are unguarded and director Strausfeld says this makes her quite endearing.

"People are charmed by Monica, I think that she is uncensored, people always sympathise with a person like that."


The women are seen from unexpected, imaginative angles lying in bed on the phone or sprawled over furniture

By contrast Linda Tripp emerges from this dramatisation as a far less sympathetic character, a sneering snitch who commits an unforgivable act of betrayal against Lewinsky.

The director presents the Lewinsky-Tripp relationship as being very close, almost erotic at times, especially when they discuss their hairstyles, which they do at regular intervals.

Strausfeld says: "The level of intimacy that they had, especially when they talked about their hair, was incredibly intense."

The play, although based on specific verbatim transcripts, tries to use the Lewinsky-Tripp relationship to provide general insights into how modern women everywhere relate.

In this regard it is not totally successful.

Snatches contains an almost feminist sub-text depicting Lewinsky and Tripp as oppressed pawns who had no choice but to use their feminine wiles to negotiate their way in a corrupt patriarchal world.

Sprawled

The critics' reaction to Snatches has been mixed. The production has been praised for its ingenious staging.


Physical appearances and grooming seem to outweigh almost everything else

The women are seen from unexpected, imaginative angles lying in bed on the phone or sprawled over furniture as they discuss Monica's affairs.

Also the actresses rely on their outfits and body language to convey meaning.

The audience deliberately never sees the full face of either Lewinsky's or Tripp's character enabling their cartoon-like images to prevail in the mind's eye.

While the bizarre snippets of the phone conversations are extremely amusing, some reviewers have found the work does little to reveal the true inner life of the women.

But Snatches does effectively convey Lewinsky's and Tripp's strange priorities in which conversations relating to physical appearances and grooming seem to outweigh almost everything else.

Although a comedy, Snatches leaves a sad aftertaste because it portrays two desperate characters, often on the brink of hysteria, flailing around trying to make headway within their own neurotic, narcissistic worlds.

See also:

10 Feb 99 | Tapes and Transcripts
Monica Lewinsky's evidence
16 Feb 99 | Timeline
Timeline: The Clinton investigation
12 Sep 98 | Starr report
Highlights: The Starr report
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