Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Weak Wilson

Written by Heiner Müller

Conceived and directed by Robert Wilson
Starring Isabelle Huppert, Ariel Garcia Valdès

November 4-7, 10-14, 2009
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn bam.org

In Heiner Muller’s Quartett, an adaptation of Laclos’ classic 18th century novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil—former lovers who now play games of one-upmanship in their seductions of others—speak as themselves and as each other, turning their dialogues into a four-character play.

Muller’s clever if coarse tinkering is undermined by director Robert Wilson’s eccentric theatrical chicanery, as this staging of Quartett abounds in his signature devices, notably the extremely stylized movements that deliberately restrain his actors and the showy lighting that paints the stage in garishly symbolic colors.

The dialogue-free opening tableau introduces the Marquise and Valmont, who enter the performance space and sit down at a table with two younger performers and an old man, all gratuitous Wilson inventions who remain for the intervening 90 minutes. This and more are accompanied by Michael Grasso’s eclectic if undistinguished music, along with ludicrously exaggerated sound effects that Wilson returns to again and again, giving Quartett all the dramatic urgency of, say, The Three Stooges.

The director masks his distance from—or, more likely, contempt for—the material with desperate stratagems that waste leads Isabelle Huppert and Ariel Garcia Valdès. Both are made to periodically burst into maniacal laughter as a sort of punctuation of their dialogue, which is often recited at a breakneck pace (especially by Huppert). Also, frequent blackouts between scenes have a sheerly irrational effect.

Laclos’ classic story is continually cheapened by animal-like behavior (which shows that these superficially elegant people are uncivilized) like guttural laughing or barking by Valmont and that pathetic old man. By succumbing to cheap effects, Wilson trivializes the work of Laclos, Muller and his performers, all of whom deserve better.
originally posted on timessquare.com

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