The unbearable tension of disconnection rings out loud and clear in Ivo Van Hove’s compelling and complex adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice. “Hello!” “Is that you?” ‘She’, the one and only Ruth Wilson (Broadway’s Constellations; King Lear) all alone on stage behind a plate of glass, says, repeatedly, into the phone, as the call comes in from a person, the person, she is most desperate to engage with. It’s an intense repetitive beginning, making an odd reference to the 1930s Parisian phone system that allowed misdiallers to occasionally connect to the wrong line, but with Wilson, the two-time Olivier and Golden Globe Award winner, playing the lost soul in the center with an intense singularity, she, the actress, somehow manages to pull us in, even as we experience and register the tense triggering separation that exists somewhere between ‘She’ and him, and her and us.
The 70-minute monologue play, written by Cocteau (1934’s La Machine Infernale, 1938’s Les Parents Terribles) and first performed in Paris in 1930, stretches out before us plainly, presenting with dutiful expertise the lies that are told to try to hold on, and the uncomfortable truths that exist underneath. Director Van Hove (West End’s All About Eve; Broadway’s Network) finds simplistic magic, even as I waited for some of his typical cinematic flairs to present themselves. They never do really show up; the projections and close-up visuals that have become his trademark as of late (i.e. The Park Avenue Armory’s The Damned), but what he has laid out bare before us all is a performance by a master connector and the Looney Toons way she attempts with all her might to hold tight, until she can’t. Or until she won’t.