Film stars take tragic, musical turns on Paris stag

PARIS, Roland Lloyd Parry - Audrey Tautou, known as the kooky Parisian girl in the movie "Amelie", made her live stage debut this week as a tragic heroine -- the latest screen actor to bring star power to struggling Paris theatres.
Meanwhile a grande dame of French stage and screen, Isabelle Huppert, goes raving mad in her underwear in another monumental female theatrical role, in a radical version of Tennessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire".

Audrey Tautou
Audrey Tautou
The brown-eyed Tautou, who was a Parisian detective alongside Tom Hanks in the critically-condemned blockbuster film "The Da Vinci Code," now plays Nora, a disillusioned bourgeois housewife in Henrik Ibsen's classic "A Doll's House."
Media anticipation was high for the first professional stage appearance by the 33-year-old, who became a worldwide star after "Amelie" in 2001.
But she banned journalists from watching rehearsals, according to Le Monde newspaper. "Knowing there are outside eyes there watching is oppressive to me," it quoted her as saying.
At the old Theatre de la Madeleine in central Paris, she drew loud applause for her opening performance on Tuesday -- well cast for the early stages of Nora's fatally carefree married life, though perhaps she lacked tragic gravitas for the character's later moral collapse.
In another star turn, the Franco-American actress Leslie Caron, known for the title role in the 1959 Hollywood musical "Gigi", sings this week in a short run of Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music" at the Theatre de Chatelet.
Across the river in the state-run Theatre de l'Odeon, meanwhile, Huppert steals the show in "Un Tramway", a radical version of "Streetcar", which opened to the public earlier this month.
A classically-trained actress, Huppert shocked international audiences with her performance as a sexually-repressed piano teacher who cuts her genitals with a razor blade in Michael Haneke's 2001 film "The Piano Teacher".
In the current production, as the cracked southern belle Blanche DuBois, she writhes in black underwear, rubbing and scratching herself as inflated images of her are projected on a big screen.
Huppert's star quality and theatre buffs' fascination with its experimental Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski helped the show sell out in its first week -- though it drew a mixture of boos and bravos at the final curtain.
Critics hailed Huppert's compelling performance but complained that the modern staging and reworked script -- including a chorus character singing a song by pop group Pulp -- do little justice to the story as a whole.
Paris critic Clare Shine, writing in the Financial Times' arts pages, called it "a reverent showcase for Huppert's undoubted technical virtuosity that overshadowed the complexity and fragility of the other relationships on stage."
Tautou and Huppert packed out the theatres, however, offering hope that the celebrity billings could pep up a sector that says it is suffering particularly hard from the economic downturn.
The president of the national theatre union SNDTP Georges Terrey said last month that the sector suffered an "erosion" in 2009.
"In the current climate of (economic) crisis, the theatre seems to be for some people a luxury they cannot afford," he told reporters, adding that some productions "seem to have an ever shorter life-span."
In another celebrity debut last month, former France and Manchester United footballer turned film actor Eric Cantona kicked off a four-month run in a play at Paris's Theatre de Marigny.
Cantona lies covered in dust as a man trapped in a collapsed supermarket in "Face au Paradis" (Facing Paradise), directed by his wife Rachida Brakni.
Later this year, British film maker Sam Mendes, whose 1999 film "American Beauty" won five Oscars, brings two Shakespeare plays, "The Tempest" and "As You Like It," in English, to Marigny in April.
Critics' verdicts on "A Doll's House" are due after official press viewings next week.

Friday, February 19th 2010
Roland Lloyd Parry

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