Th--tre d'-toile

Hosted by
Th--tre d'-toile

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

It's long been said that because of all of the talented performers that live and work in Hollywood, Los Angeles theaters should be easily able to engage some of Hollywood's star power. But in past decades, with the exception of a star turn at the Ahmanson or Taper, big name actors didn't really get involved with local theater.

This year, the season is barely a month old, yet Los Angeles theater goers have been able to see some of Hollywood's biggest stars live on stage. Meryl Streep presented a wonderfully self-effacing performance at Royce Hall, Al Pacino just wrapped a small but captivating run of Lyle Kessler's Orphans at the Greenway Court Theatre, and Ed Harris dropped by Disney Hall and gave an impassioned reading of a selection of Beethoven's letters as part of the LA Philharmonic's opening gala.

But for real star curiosity, the most eagerly anticipated theatrical event of the fall is Isabelle Huppert performing in a translated version of Sarah Kane's Psychosis 4:48.

Huppert is currently the reigning Grande Dame of the French cinema. Right now, the actress is particularly sought after thanks to her work with Austrian director Michael Haneke, but Huppert has had a long, illustrious career working with notable auteurs as such as Godard, Preminger and Chabrol. Huppert has performed on stage in France, but this run at UCLA Live! marks the actress's U.S. Stage debut.

We'll get back to Huppert in minute, but first: the play. Director Claude R-gy has done something remarkable with his 4:48 Psychose, as on opening night this production managed to introduce a true element of suspense into Sarah Kane's work.

This tension was due to the complete stasis of the production--which kept many in the audience wondering, &quotHow; many people will get up and leave at the next black out?" Sure enough, flocks of people left throughout the performance--and yes, there were boos at the end.

Now to be fair, those who buy tickets for any of Sarah Kane's plays should be prepared for a &quotchallenging;" evening at the theater; but R-gy's version--as the program describes, in small print-- is performed &quotin; French with abridged subtitles." Translation: if you have a problem with French, you're in for a long night.

But for patient viewers there are rewards. True, The Royal Court Theatre's sublime production of Psychosis 4:48, seen last season, gave audiences a more traditional look at the theater of Sarah Kane; but this version of the play (at least for non-French speakers) is not about Kane--it's all about Huppert.

The production opens with the actress standing center stage, dressed in a blue shirt and dark leather pants. Huppert stands there still and silent for almost thirty seconds, with her famous Gallic scowl frozen on her face. It's a bold opening and it hints that this staging is going to take its time.

Indeed, 4:48 Pyschose is in no rush. Somehow, R-gy has added about 30 minutes to the standard running time of the play.

This only exacerbates the language problem--but honestly, dropping most of the supertitles does not substantially alter one's understanding of the work. What it does however, is allow Ms. Huppert's incredible physical performance to translate Kane's words into minute gestures.

Huppert barely moves for most of the performance. Occasionally she'll extend a finger or clench her fists. But the tension and control with she holds her posture, make these tiny movements seem monumental.

This type of minimalist theater is certainly not for everyone. The dynamic Royal Court production for three actors brought a clarity to Kane's work that I hadn't seen before--or even imagined was possible with her plays. This production, essentially a monologue, with an occasional line by a second actor who never emerges from behind a vast scrim, is less concerned with clarity; instead it digs in for raw intensity.

This makes R-gy and Huppert's 4:48 Pyschose incredibly difficult to watch. It's not a production for everyone, to be sure; but I imagine it's one that, were Sarah Kane still alive today, the playwright herself would admire greatly.

4:48 Psychose starring Isabelle Huppert continues through Sunday at UCLA's Freud Playhouse.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW.