‘Bérénice’ Review: Crushed by Isabelle Huppert’s Star Power

‘Bérénice’ Review: Crushed by Isabelle Huppert’s Star Power

The Isabelle Huppert automobile is a curious subgenre of French theater. At this level, its elements have grown predictable: They embody a high-profile male director, like Robert Wilson or Ivo van Hove; a prestigious playhouse; and a central position that casts Huppert as a girl teetering on the sting of purpose.

Huppert, 70, has adhered to this formulation in a various set of performs lately, from Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” to Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” and, in New York, Florian Zeller’s “The Mother.” She was the focus in all of those, however this season’s entry, a “Bérénice” directed by Romeo Castellucci on the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, goes a lot additional.

The manufacturing does away with any pretense that it’s about greater than its star. Castellucci and Huppert have equal billing in all publicity materials, right down to the ticket stubs, and Huppert’s title is actually embroidered into the curtains that body the stage. Some of the sentences that adorn them are barely legible due to the material’s creases, however one in all them, a quote from a playbill interview with Castellucci, describes Huppert as “the synecdoche of theater.”

Under the circumstances, don’t anticipate to truly hear a lot of “Bérénice,” a 1670 tragedy by Jean Racine that’s extensively thought of one of many best performs in French. For starters, a lot of the characters have fallen by the wayside. Huppert is the one performer who speaks, delivering Racine’s alexandrine verse to an empty stage — or, in a single scene, to a washer.

Racine’s play gives a traditional alternative between love and responsibility: Titus, who’s about to turn into the emperor of Rome, lives with Bérénice, the queen of Judaea. Custom dictates {that a} foreigner can not turn into empress, nonetheless, and Titus renounces their love, leaving Bérénice shattered.

Here, a silent, model-like Titus, performed by Cheikh Kébé, hardly crosses paths with Bérénice. (Imagine being forged as Huppert’s love curiosity and solely trying her within the eyes through the curtain calls.) Kébé solely materializes for a number of wordless scenes, together with Giovanni Manzo as Antiochus, a detailed good friend of Titus’s who can also be in love with Bérénice.

Together, they mime the crowning of Titus with golden laurels, pose and kneel in prayer, and slowly increase their fists to the empty stage. They are later joined by a bunch of 12 males, who carry Titus on a cross and strip bare in a sequence of sluggish tableaux.

This staging alternative isn’t a shock from Castellucci, an experimental Italian director who has amassed a cult following in Europe. While he’s finest recognized for his opera stagings, his theater works commerce in massive, hanging pictures, and are shot by with symbolism and incessantly devoid of textual content.

Castellucci makes an attempt to use this craft to “Bérénice,” which unfolds behind a scrim, like a barely hazy set of reminiscences. An digital soundscape performs up the unreality of the motion. Incongruous props are typically wheeled in, together with a sphinx-like statue, a radiator Huppert hangs onto for a number of minutes, and the aforementioned washer, which seems to be a stand-in for Titus.

If the objective was to permit Huppert to discover emotional extremes in a vacuum, it really works. One minute, she is a stately queen, one hand raised to her brow in exalted despair, stalking across the stage in luxurious clothes designed by Iris van Herpen. The subsequent, she unleashes a really unhinged vitality, with strains amplified and distorted to the purpose the place they turn into incomprehensible.

Huppert has finished all of this earlier than, and higher, in stage and display productions that harnessed her skills for the advantage of a narrative. Here, she and Castellucci crush “Bérénice” underneath the load of her presence.

Only one scene, on the very finish, all of the sudden brings her out of her consolation zone in a approach that made the viewers sit straight. As she recites Bérénice’s last monologues, Huppert begins stammering. Stumbling on phrases, struggling to get them out, she appears newly weak — to the purpose that when she stops and sits in silence, trying left and proper as if ready for a cue, you surprise if one thing has gone fallacious.

Then Huppert stands up, begins strolling away and turns again to deal with the viewers. “Don’t take a look at me,” she screams, again and again, earlier than hiding behind her couture sleeve.

The second has nothing to do with Racine, but it was tailor-made to Huppert’s unusual, overpowering stage persona. In current years, it has began to really feel like a caricature of itself, disconnected from different actors when she interacts with them. At this level in her profession, she is the present. Perhaps subsequent time, in lieu of “Bérénice,” a director can merely give us “Isabelle.”

Through March 28 on the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris;



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