Next week the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis is hosting two screenings of the National Theatre’s production of “Phèdre,” starring actress Helen Mirren. The production will be projected onto a large screen on the Guthrie’s McGuire Proscenium Stage.
The screening is an experiment, similar to the broadcast of Metropolitan Opera performances at movie theaters across the country. New York Times writer Christopher Isherwood got to attend a preview of the screening at the Directors Guild of America in Manhattan.
His review? Mixed. There were technical glitches, and the interviews leading up to the performance came across as a bit too didactic. But he also recognized the uniquely theatrical experience of watching a stage actor up close:
Seen on digital video — in tight focus, if you will — the intensity of the feeling in the performance keeps you riveted. The theatricality is unmistakable, with Ms. Mirren making dramatic shifts in vocal register and declaiming the verse in sometimes archly wrought tones. But the precisely channeled emotion behind the effects all but obliterates your awareness of the actress at work.
When Phèdre is first informed that the man she loves loves another, the camera moved in tightly on the back of Ms. Mirren’s head. She turned slowly to reveal a face suddenly transformed into a mask of cold fury, creating a moment of tension magnified by the intimacy of the camera’s gaze. It was not “live” theater, but the goose bumps felt just the same.