Gushing over self-destructive divas is an award-season ritual just as predictable as the performances tend to be, and even in the year of the Swan, Danish alco-drama Applause appears destined for the usual treatment. Recently divorced from her husband and the bottle, stage actress Thea (Paprika Steen) teeters near the edge of relapse (or is that recovery?) for our titillation. She awkwardly attempts normalcy in custody visits from her two kids and lashes out at others, all of which is given the requisite spotlight through snippets of her playing Martha on stage in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
Looking run-ragged and wide-eyed from the get-go, both in and out of Martha drag, Steen need do very little to have reviewers seeing "raw." But though a genteel student of the Dogme Celebration-style flare-up that goes too long, director Martin Zandvliet seems to select and overpackage the least interesting moments in Steen's performance, which is not terribly imaginative in the first place. Scenes with other people (her kids, their stepmom, a backstage assistant, a shopgirl) unfold at an embarrassed distance as foregone conclusions, and one idea, a repeat engagement with a past blackout hook-up, is not nearly as unnerving as it could be.
Thea's husband (Michael Falch) provides something of a balance, as weary as Thea is but from the other side, and Steen does pull off some nice shrill slides into vitriol. And while Steen did in fact play Martha in acclaimed productions, the presence of Who's only reminds us of how something can be harrowing, happily overblown, and entertaining all at once.
Opens January 21