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Toneelgroep Amsterdam (#110 of 2)

Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s La Voix Humaine

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Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>La Voix Humaine</em>
Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>La Voix Humaine</em>

’Tis the season for surreal culture shock. First it was the fried balls. Forget popcorn and potato chips; from bitterballen to oliebollen, unless it’s round and fried, it ain’t a snack here in Holland. Then it was Sinterklaas—or, more precisely, his helper Zwarte Piet (best explained by David Sedaris in an essay for Esquire a few years back). Suffice to say, the sight of towheaded tots trotting down the street in blackface can make even a seen-it-all New Yorker like me gawk. And now: Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s production of Jean Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine, a French play performed in Dutch with English surtitles projected perfectly center-stage above the action. (Interestingly, five days before I attended the show at the spectacular, castle-like Stadsschouwburg, Spike Lee held a discussion/book promotion at the theater. Alas, I heard he didn’t have much to say about Zwarte Piet.)

But I have quite a bit to say about La Voix Humaine, a one-woman show starring the luminous Halina Reijn (who also stars in the company’s Children of the Sun as the invalid Lisa) as an alternately determined and desperate mistress who is trying to break up once and for all with her lover over the phone. While Michael Shannon and his headset may have New York audiences in stitches in Mistakes Were Made, Ms. Reijn and her regular old receiver (or “terrible weapon” as she refers to it at one point) drag Amsterdam theatergoers through a nonstop, emotional tight-wire act for nearly an hour.

Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Children of the Sun

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Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>Children of the Sun</em>
Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s <em>Children of the Sun</em>

Belgian theater and opera director Ivo van Hove—a familiar name to those who get their Off Broadway fix at BAM and New York Theatre Workshop—has been the artistic director of Toneelgroep Amsterdam, the Netherlands’s largest rep company, for close to a decade, and it shows in his latest self-assured production, Kinderen van de Zon. For those of you who don’t speak Dutch (and I don’t so I had to catch a performance that included English “surtitles” projected a tad too high above centerstage), the title translates to Children of the Sun, Maxim Gorki’s timeless classic about the intelligentsia’s doomed disconnect—and retreat from—the realities of the common man. (Yup, I am now going to review in English a Russian play done in Dutch. Take that, NYC theater critics back home!)