Move Over, CerseiIsabelle Huppert’s Phaedra Is the New Mad Queen5 months, 12 days ago
Phaedra is the archetypal queen of passion and pain, and now–as seen in 3 incarnations by Isabelle Huppert at BAM–every shade of her aggressivenes and vulnerability is on vivid display.”>
The tortured household drama is a theater staplethink Eugene ONeill, Arthur Miller, Oedipus Rexand theres no household more fucked up than that of Phaedra, Queen of Athens. Shes married to Theseus, the great Greek hero who killed her half-bull half-brother the Minotaur, but shes madly in love with her stepson Hippolytus.
When Phaedra confesses her forbidden fantasies, Hippolytus rebuffs her; so she lies to the monarch and claims her stepson raped her. Theseus curses Hippolytus and begs the gods to kill him( which they do in brutal style) and Phaedra aims up committing suicide, wracked with guilt over having destroyed her young love.
The Phaedra myth has fascinated playwrights since ancient timestheres so much darkness there, so many primeval emotions from obsessive lust to wounded and violent rejection, that it gives itself easily to the stage.
Now, its latest iteration has arrived like a tornado at BAMs Next Wave festival with Isabelle Huppert in the title role. Called Phaedra( s) and directed against Krzysztof Warlikowski, its an uneven production that cobbles together three modern imagines of the doomed queen: a psych-ward fantasia by Wajdi Mouawad, Sarah Kanes Phaedras Love, and a cheeky essay by J.M. Coetzee.
Huppert occupies Phaedraor Phdre, for the play is in French with subtitlesfor the full 3 hours with such magnetic force that whatever faults the depict has pale next to her raw vitality.
Dont go if youre expecting catharsis or fun. The reason to see Phaedra( s) is to witness an actress in her elemental prime.
The play opens with a guitarist and a singerclad in black leather and vinylwailing a seductive and edgy Umm Kulthum tune as a dancer( Rosalba Torres Guerrero) gyrates in a rhinestone bra and stilettos.
Lights and shadows from the peep depict ripple across the set, which is made up of sandy yellow bricks that call to mind the ancient palace of Knossosthat Cretan lair of the Minotaur and Phdres old home. The rest of the scenery is sparse: a sink, a bed, an industrial showerhead wrenched to the wall. We are in space that is both monumental and claustrophobic, and this little opening actthe fleshy dancer, the moody night music, the raspy vocalsis setting the stage for a story about illicit gazes and taboo longings.
Huppert appears in a long blond wig and black mink. All it takes is for her to walking across the stage and the audience goes mad. Its impossible not to watch this woman.
After a brief monologue as the Greek goddess Aphrodite( more on that afterwards ), Huppert transitions into her first PhdreMouawads version, the least coherent of the threeas a woman losing her intellect, perhaps already institutionalized, with her nurse as witness.
Huppert writhes and screamings on her bed, trying to say the name of the person who is tormenting her and spinning off into fractured memories of the horrors she supposedly witnessed as a child.
The way she tells it, Theseus came to Crete to execute her people and, in a Ramsay Bolton-esque move, loosed a pack of dogs on the island kids. Phdre is the only one who survived and she aims up wedding the gnocidaire who murdered her kin.( This prosper seems to be Mouadwads invention; in the Greek myth, it is Phdres household who demands the ritual sacrifice of youth to feed to the Minotaur .)
As a backstory, its chock full of trauma and Huppert plays this first Phdre with the fragility of a woman whose emotional age was arrested by unthinkable tragedy, one that somehow got bound up in her adult intellect with sexuality and pain.
So Phdres psyche is seriously ill at easea place where past wounds and present dishonor bleed into each otherand finally the nurse guesses her deranged secret: The queen is obsessed with Hippolytus( or Hippolyte in French ).
Enter the object of Phdres affections, played by the charismatic Gal Kamilindi. Hippolyte is dressed in Aphrodites mink, prowling on the ground like a shaggy demon dog. He seems to bealthough the play is a little muddled at this pointboth a real teen and a figment of Phdres imagination, a sexual predator and her prey all at once, and pure danger.