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Stage Door: Isabelle Huppert is "The Mother"

Since we're in the thick of theater season with the Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Circle, and Tony Awards coming up, that means an extra stage review here and there! Here's Eric Blume...

One of TFE’s favorite actresses, Isabelle Huppert, currently stars off-Broadway in writer Florian Zeller’s new play, The Mother.  As you might guess, she kills it in Zeller’s non-linear play. The Mother is challenging and archly theatrical, with scenes being acted and re-enacted, timelines being blurred, and reality and fantasy being blended in gloriously unclear ways to achieve both a distancing and an immediacy.  This is intelligent and precise writing, not an easy ride for theatergoers, and demanding in its shifts both temporal and stylistic.

But Huppert is deep in character as always, sinking into the skin of the matriarch in the four-person family play...

She almost eats her costars alive but falls just short in a very effective way.  I never thought I’d live to see the day where Huppert would share the stage with Mr. Big from Sex and the City, but Chris Noth works with some dexterity opposite Huppert. He finds a few key moments that bring equilibrium to the piece.  

There aren't many people who would argue against the notion that Isabelle Huppert is one of the greatest actors to ever step in front of a camera.  One of her greatest gifts in the cinema is her ability to withhold: she’s feeling the full rainbow of emotions, but she refuses to let you see all of the colors. She lets you see what the typical person in life lets you see: what they want you to see. Huppert forces us to fill in the blanks, and the power she has when she dances with a camera can floor you emotionally; she can push you away and make you reach for her in the same breathless moment.

Stage acting is of course a different beast, so it's a fun surprise to see her be so intensely physical in The Mother.  This 66-year-old (who looks almost two decades younger) throws her whole body into this production in a physically expressive performance.  I’ve now seen Huppert onstage three times (in the French play 4.48 Psychosis, and with Cate Blanchett and Elizabeth Debicki in Jean Genet’s The Maids, which was one of the craziest nights of theater in my life… just beyond).  She’s always more physical on stage than she appears to be onscreen: she extends herself in a way where she feels lighter and more free. Ultimately she doesn’t  have the same seismic power that she has with the camera, but she’s a knockout on the stage nonetheless.

The Mother plays at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York City through April 13th.  For anybody who loves Huppert, it’s unmissable.


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Reader Comments (6)

Thanks for the review. I wanted to see this play but it got sold out pretty quickly. I heard very solid reviews of Huppert and Justice Smith in particular. Friends told me The Mother has some problematic writing and the stage direction did not quite iron those kinks. But Huppert more than held her own here and this might be one of the rare occasions to see her onstage as probably her film commitments have since doubled since Elle.

I wish this play would have an extended run. Or better yet maybe they should have a French production of this as I am sure Huppert can convey even more when she is in her native language.

Just saw Greta recently and you can tell Huppert had fun with her character, though Neil Jordan's direction was a bit spotty.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

A friend of mine describes Sarah Kane's 4.48 Psychosis, a British play, as one of the most affecting things he has ever seen on a stage.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I've loved her in every stage performance I've seen her in. Even in the maids, where she objectively wasn't particularly good, her strangeness and extreme physicality was so compellingly weird and the characters rage and bitterness shown through so clearly that her rather monochromatic english didn't phase me as it understandably did others. Her Pheadre on the other hand was kind of astounding.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I think of Huppert as the ultimate film actress so her willingness to do theater constantly signals to me everyone who shuns the stage after Oscar recognition are frauds.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Apart from the 90s, Neil Jordan is always spotty. I love Huppert!

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelina

I agree. I saw her on this play and she extends her lithe frame to an nth degree. She's so compellingly physical and her emotional shifts are so quick and astounding. SHE IS THE GREATEST LIVING ACTRESS ALIVE no doubt!

April 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commentervincentp

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