Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

08 October 2005

Weird Theatre

I had a very strange theatrical experience this evening. I think it would have been strange if the whole thing had been in English, but as it was it was even stranger.

I went to the Freud Playhouse on the campus at UCLA tonight to see a production of late playwright Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychose. It was written in English originally, but it was performed (this was partly the reason I went) for this production in French by the famous film actress Isabelle Huppert, whom you might know from such movies as Entre Nous, Clean Slate, Merci pour le Chocolat, I [Heart] Huckabees, The Piano Teacher, 8 Women, Ma Mère--you get the idea: it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. So I decided to go. 4.48 Psychose has gotten good reviews of its own: last year UCLA live put up the original production of the show and everyone was talking about it then. I even bought the play and had it somewhere around the house to read at some (I thought distant) point in the future. I was informed that the show would have English supertitles. The opera always does and I expected no less from UCLA live.

The thing is, I knew nothing at all about the show except its title, that the author had killed herself very shortly after writing it, and a vague recollection of something I had read about the set. Boy was I unprepared. The supertitles were few and far between and the play is a two hour exploration of madness and psychosis without respite. They even announced it at the beginning: "The show is two hours long. There isn't an intermission. If you leave the theatre, you will not be allowed back in. Turn your fucking phones off." The staging was as follows. Ms. Huppert stood at the center of the stage in front of a silvery static-like scrim that was hung on the proscenium pipe. She faced full front and moved only her hands--not her arms, at all--the entire two hours. There was a second character: a kind of doctor-lover who stood always behind the scrim and always at an angle. We never saw his face until curtain call. The lighting was really cool and the play is about form way more than it is about content, so I think it was okay to see it first in a language I couldn't comprehend. See, I know barely any French at all. My French is limited to words in the titles of movies: huit, trés, trois, fort, femmes, les quatre cents coups.
Anyway, it was weird. Really cool, and very emotionally unsettling--quite haunting, really. I guess I have to read the play, now.

The next show in the UCLA live theatre festival they're having is a Polish company called Song of the Goat performing a play about mourning called Lamentation or something like that. It's based on the Epic of Gilgamesh. It's next week. I think I'm going to go to that too.