The Art of Dying

Isabelle Huppert brings suicide to life in Sarah Kane's final play

Chéreau, who directed Huppert in his new film Gabrielle, a two-character drama adapted from a story about a loveless marriage by Joseph Conrad, describes his star as "a storm in a void." "Isabelle Huppert is both intimate and distant, intelligent, cold, burning—and prepared to do anything to act," he writes. "She gives herself to others while at the same time is absent; she is solitary and multiple in nature."

Of course there's another reason why auteurs like Chéreau can't resist Huppert: She's an unabashed formalist, attracted to projects that move beyond straightforward psychological narratives into new modes of storytelling. Her career, routinely finding room for experimental theater amid so many intriguing movies, reveals her to be as comfortable in Robert Wilson's choreographic staging of Orlando as she is in David O. Russell's jaunty philosophical farce I ? Huckabees.

"Many people don't realize that it's in what you think are the limitations of a certain form that you can often find your own rhythm and space," she says. "I would never be able to do what I'm doing in a classical production, because in a classical staging, while you might think you're free, you're not. You're submitting to convention, to something totally arbitrary. In Régy's production, it's the contrary: Because of the form, you can fly. I experienced this for the first time onstage with Bob Wilson. With him it's such a mathematical space, with such precise regulations, and yet I never felt so much myself."

The notion of a dangerously depressed writer—in and out of hospitals, bombarded with doctors and drugs—revealing herself not through a tell-all memoir but through the rigor of dramatic poetry was a powerful inducement for Huppert to bring this celebrated Parisian production to America, despite the language barrier, the recent Royal Court production, and the limited audience for such noncommercial work.

As for the difficult subject matter, Huppert sees it as not simply bleak. "The attraction to death is the reverse of this incredible hunger for life," she observes. "It's an awareness of how difficult it is to fulfill the desire for life. The play constantly plays on these contradictions, which is why I like this idea of dying standing, because in a way that's what she does: She dies alive."

For tickets to 4:48 Psychose call 718-636-4100 or visit BAM.org

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