VINCENTELLI When you go to “The Damned” and you hear people having animated discussions — pro and con — on the street afterward, there’s something happening that I think is very exciting. People arguing over directorial choices! That is just incredible to me. I’ll forgive “Lazarus,” the Bowie show, just for that.
ZINOMAN I agree with Elisabeth that inspiring heated argument about theater directing is wonderful. But I also think we have a bias for ambition that can make us go easy on van Hove. For instance, let’s take the most provocative decision I have seen him make, the molestation scene in “The Damned.” That was a very young actor, and he lingered in that scene in a way that was meant to make us uncomfortable. To be fair to him, the scene was in the film. But theater is a different medium. And when I watched it live, I didn’t think about the decadence of Nazi Germany or the corruption of that family or any contemporary parallels. The only thing on my mind was that actor: How did they explain this scene to her? Van Hove had already shown us executions, orgies, adult bodies smeared in blood and feathers. Did we need this too? Was it worth it?
BRANTLEY All of your concerns were certainly on my mind when I watched. I think it would require more space than we have to justify that particular choice. But you’re right, it jerked us out of the moment. I, too, found myself wondering how the young actress had been prepared for that moment.
HELLER Is sex in van Hove-world simply part and parcel of the grimness that Jason talked about?
VINCENTELLI I’ve seen women take issue on social media with the way his productions can be physically taxing for actors. But from everything I’ve read, actors love working with him and the process is thorough and methodical. As for what’s onstage, I don’t find his depiction of sexuality grim. It can be brutal, manipulative, yes, but it’s also matter-of-fact in the way it looks at power relationships and how they are expressed through sex.
BRANTLEY I’m also often aware of the loneliness of the characters in his productions, even when they’re locked in carnal embrace. That was part of what was so beautiful to me about his interpretation of “Angels in America” — the hopeful futility of reaching out and touching someone. And I think he just might do well by Eve in the upcoming “All About Eve,” given his stage version of John Cassavetes’s “Opening Night.”
HELLER The productions do keep coming. Beyond his own work, I wonder: Has he influenced other directors, or what we’re all seeing onstage?
VINCENTELLI What he does can be expensive, and American directors with ambitions and ideas are usually short of cash. There is not the same institutional support system as in Europe or Britain.