A correction was made to this review on Oct. 11, 2005.
UCLA Live opened its International Theater Festival with a most nontheatrical piece, Sarah Kane’s character-free contemplation on suicide, “4.48 Psychose” — performed in French. The attraction here is thesp Isabelle Huppert, who stands in a single spot for the play’s duration and captivates despite the work’s litany of barriers.
A lauded three-character, English version of Kane’s piece — which ran only 70 minutes — toured the U.S. last year, including a stop at UCLA. With the work praised more for the Brit scribe’s language than any other aspect, it’s odd that a version that has its power restricted by language and length would entice a U.S. programmer. English translations, which appear intermittently in supertitles, provide only an outline of the suicidal character’s mental state and don’t drive home Kane’s powerful text.
Early on, the female character (Huppert, dressed in blue T-shirt and leather pants) answers a question from the male figure (Gerard Watkins, dressed in orange and red) behind a scrim. He asks, “Have you made any plans?” She responds: “Take an overdose, slash my wrists, then hang myself.”
From there, Huppert rambles — about a lover, medication, delusional thoughts about her killing past, a hope for healing. The supertitles capture the broader strokes — “Nothing can fill this void in my heart”; “Cease this war”; “I saw visions of God”; “I feel your pain … but I cannot hold your life in my hand.”
There is humor here and there — at least the handful of folks who speak French laughed — yet the supertitles maintain an overall darkness. The scrim behind Huppert stays charcoal gray for most of the time; it comes to life when an assortment of random numbers surround her. That the playwright hanged herself in 1999 at the age of 28, soon after finishing this play, usually gives the work an extra level of gravitas; here, that weightiness is decidedly lifted.
Huppert, known on these shores for pics “Entre Nous,” “The Piano Teacher” and “I Heart Huckabees,” keeps her arms at her sides, her hands balled into fists save for the occasional extension of a finger. Her face, mostly blank and remote, snaps and snarls effectively in short bursts; she alone sustains interest in the play, which ultimately comes off as an acting exercise.
Like Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days,” “4.48” is a hypothesis about a deteriorating mind that teeters on the brink. That pic, too, has its own language problems and attempts to make a visceral connection regarding madness.
Director Claude Regy gives the audience little to look at. This presentation of “4.48 Psychose” leaves the audience hanging, impressed by a performance rather than a message.