Transfixed by magnetic radiance of European culture, I took an after-work train from the Rockefeller Center to Harvey Theater of BAM.
Who could’ve resisted this shining Pleiades of words: Greek tragedy*Queen Phaedra*Euripides & Seneca*Odeon-Theatre de l’Europe*Isabelle Huppert* !
An attentive reader, that’s who. (S)he would have also noticed the play runs 3hr 20min and it’s composed after texts by S.Kane, Waidi Mouawad and JM Goetzee, directed by a Pole, populated by international cast including characters described “Arab dancer”, “Arab singer”, “Thesee-Doctor-Priest” and “Hippolyte 1, Dog”.
Here’s what Playbill says about the happening:
“First divine, then mortal: Aphrodite becomes Phaedra, the very drunkenness of love personified as as a lover…heroine, multiple and complex, constructed after a long dialogue…on layers of other Phaedras…another succeeds her: rigorously modern…the third speaks about sex between humans and deities…the woman reveals to us how deeply human pleasure is rooted in mortality.”
Here’s how NYTimes critic Charles Isherwood, who apparently was in the audience with me, describes it:
In the first section, presumably “after” Mr. Mouawad, Ms. Huppert emotes frantically, even writhing on the floor like an animal in heat, in a zippered black miniskirt and white dreadlocks, her bloodied underpants at one point exposed. She is apparently initially meant to represent Aphrodite, goddess of love, and later transforms into Phaedra, who lusts after her stepson, Hippolyte (played by two actors, Gael Kamilindi and Andrzej Chyra).
Sample of the dialogue (spoken in French and seen in English supertitles): “When your heart thrills to an image … you have no desire but to contemplate it. Nothing turns you away from it. You’d like to extinguish the stars … and cover the world with a black sheet so that in the deepest darkness only that image can radiate with its full power. You give yourself to it, and it to you. You become vision. You become image.”
It goes on, and on and on, from there.
If this kind of thing, which takes place in a vast spalike space with tiled and mirrored walls, is the kind you like, then by all means, “Phaedra(s)” — even the title is typographically annoying — will provide three and a half hours of sumptuous feasting. The continual parade of oddities includes a talking dog, an androgynous actor slinking around near-naked like a Vegas chorus girl, bits from Pasolini’s “Teorema,” simulated necrophilia and more.
Those who do not subscribe to the tenets of what is often called Eurotrash theater (sorry, beleaguered E.U.) should steer clear. These tenets might be summed up, to riff on the motto of the French republic, as “Obscurité, stupidité, eternité.”
Here’s what an anonymous audience member said to his companion during intermission, when I was leaving the theater:
But this is juvenile! Not funny, not sexy, not smart or entertaining. Juvenile!
I’ll add: all throughout the 1st part the public had to endure dark recesses of Arab mind, with its obscene imagery, seizures of impotence – in body as well as intellect, and vague hints to “camps”, “war”, and “crossing the waters”. How all this is connected to pure crystal of Greek drama, Allah knows. The second part was slightly better, since it elicited several laughs, but exhibitionism, masturbation presented literally as well as a symbol of self-expression; monotonous howling in place of emotion, sheer ugliness on display were revolting.
Not because it was Épater la bourgeoisie, no.
It was simply boring.