If you’ve ever watched an Isabelle Huppert vehicle, you’ll know that it’s damn near impossible to take your eyes off the legendary French actress who has enchanted viewers for years in not necessarily audience-friendly fare like The Piano Teacher, Elle, and most recently Neil Jordan’s Greta. And thankfully for theatergoers, Huppert has brought her talents to the New York stage in The Mother, directed by Trip Cullman and written by Florian Zeller, putting everything that Huppert is known for out there on the stage.
Huppert stars in The Mother as Anne, a mother who is struggling with her children growing up, her absent husband, and her own grip on reality. It’s no surprise to hear that Huppert is truly the focal point of the show — it even opens with her sitting and reading on a massive white couch, something that would be in a posh Upper West Side apartment, before the action starts. Zeller and Cullman give Huppert everything she needs, everything that plays to her many strengths. The play moves through different iterations, different timings, of the same scenes — and allows Huppert the room to react to the same scenes in many different ways, from maniacally funny to drunkenly depressed. And those varying moods progress the play forward with one flick of Huppert’s delicate wrists.
And a lot of the play’s action has to do with Anne’s relationships with her husband (played by Chris Noth) and son (Justice Smith). Anne’s husband seems like a pretty typical checked-out generic husband type, where it’s immediately apparent that he’s not telling his wife the whole truth about what he’s getting up to. And while Noth’s not bad per se, he feels perhaps miscast, his actions feel booming and big, and when he’s opposite Huppert (which is literally the majority of the play) it’s almost distracting. But the secret weapon of The Mother might be Smith, playing their son Nicolas, whose absence Anne continually laments about due to his new girlfriend, who she by principle already hates. Don’t be surprised about the Oedipal vibe to The Mother, which gets weird, but Smith and Huppert are so good together — and Smith holds his own so much with her — that you can’t wait for him to get on stage so they can do their creepy mother/son dance all over again.
Cullman, who previously directed Choir Boy and Lobby Hero, uses the set to establish his family — wealthy; attractive; one that relies too much on pill prescriptions, mini bars, and silences. And Zellner’s script gets into all the weird dynamics that one family can harbor against one another, including some of the worst types of betrayal, and what we choose to pretend we don’t see. With its fluid use of time and very dark humor, The Mother is certainly not for everyone, but being able to see the legendary Huppert on stage doing a full Huppert Performance and Smith’s future promise (let’s get this guy in a drama ASAP!) is certainly worth the price of admission. B