Avant-garde 'Streetcar,' starring Isabelle Huppert, gets panned in Paris
Playing the role of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire" has recently worked wonders for the stage careers of Cate Blanchett and Rachel Weisz. But the same cannot be said for actress Isabelle Huppert, who is receiving some of the worst reviews of her career in a new revisionist production of Tennessee Williams' classic drama.
Huppert plays Blanche in Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski's experimental production, which is simply titled "Un Tramway" and runs through April at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris. The play, which is performed in French, has been translated by Canadian dramatist Wajdi Mouawad.
No stranger to edgy theater, Huppert has worked with stage
artists ranging from Robert Wilson to Yasmina Reza. She most recently
appeared in Los Angeles in a production of Sarah Kane's "4.48
Psychosis" as part of UCLA Live in 2005.
Warlikowski's production of "Streetcar," which includes video projection, techno music and haute-couture costumes, is a post-modern interpretation of the play rather than a straightforward revival. The multinational cast includes French and Polish actors.
A review in Le Monde states that "on paper, the production brings together a considerable amount of talent," but the staging leaves the impression of watching "puppets act out, not human beings live." The reviewer concludes: "One leaves this 'Streetcar' saying: what was the point? What was the point of this totally vain exercise in style?"
A headline from a review in the Agence France Presse put it more bluntly: "Warlikowski leads Huppert in 'A Streetcar' named disappointment." The AFP critic partially faulted Huppert, saying that the actress does not "get into the skin of Blanche DuBois." Rather, she "seems to be constantly saying to the audience, 'Look what I can do.'"
(The AFP reports that the estate of Tennessee Williams did not authorize the use of the play's full title for this production, due to the liberal nature of the adaptation.)
A critic for the Nouvel Observateur writes that the massive set -- which includes glass boxes and a bowling alley -- is beautiful but isn't "appropriate" for making the audience feel the "closeness of bodies and souls." The critic added that Huppert comes off as a "robot" who is completely disconnected from her co-stars. "Blanche isn't here, but Isabelle Huppert always is, and between them and us, nothing happens."
Libération's reviewer takes a more generous point of view, writing that Huppert "accomplishes on the Odéon's stage one of the most extraordinary missions of her career, a voyage to the end of madness that is less a descent into hell than a series of round trips between the shore and the abyss."
The critic for Telerama expresses some guarded admiration for the project's audacity as well as some frustration: "We know we're going to witness a descent into hell... and we spend three hours enduring this crucified conscience as if in a maze without an end."
After ending its Paris run, this version of "Streetcar" is reportedly scheduled to travel to Warsaw in April and then to Berlin; Grenoble, France; Luxembourg; Amsterdam; the Hague, Netherlands; and Geneva.
-- David Ng
Photo: Isabelle Huppert as Blanche in "Un Tramway." Credit: Agence France Presse / Théâtre de l'Odéon