Review: In ‘Amour,’ Putting a Palme d’Or Winner Onstage

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Review: In ‘Amour,’ Putting a Palme d’Or Winner Onstage

The German-language stage adaptation, by Henkel and the dramaturg Tobias Schuster, hews closely to the French screenplay. At the same time, they employ strategies to defamiliarize the piece. The dialogue is heightened by frequent, often uncanny repetition. And many of the script’s stage directions are read out loud by two actors, Joyce Sanhá and Christian Löber, whose limber performances — as narrators, nurses and other characters — add to the production’s anxious, off-kilter energy.

Henkel’s greatest gamble is including a twelve-person chorus of nonprofessional extras. Each of them is old, infirm or in mourning, and, although they don’t speak much onstage, they have written moving testimonies about living with health conditions, or losing loved ones to illness that are recited as monologues by the main cast. In the wrong directorial hands, this sort of intervention could easily have curdled into sentimentality. Here, however, the emotional charge of these testimonies is balanced by understatement and restraint. By a similar token, the production’s depiction and discussion of euthanasia, while sometimes shocking, resists moralizing.

Hovering somewhere between the cast of extras and the main performers is the actress Nine Manthei, a little girl who acts as an ambiguous intermediary. Is she a protecting angel? The personification of Anne’s soul? Along with Bach’s skillful performance, Manthei’s poise and onstage presence suggests a double exposure of Anne as an old woman and a child.

“Old age might be tragic, but it is not individual,” we hear Haneke’s voice say in an excerpt from an interview about “Amour” that plays during the production.

More than a decade ago, Haneke employed his formal austerity and emotional restraint to immerse us in one elderly couple’s tragedy. But where film encourages realism, theater can embrace allegory and abstraction. With her sensitive, at times idiosyncratic, approach to this same material, Henkel uses her theatrical artistry to reach the universal.

Through Aug. 10 at the Salzburg Festival, in Salzburg, Austria; salzburgerfestspiele.at.

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