BOSTON — “La Belle et La Bête,” ooh la la. The latest ArtsEmerson import (at the Cutler Majestic through Dec. 9), this one from Montreal, is a visually dazzling 4D reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast myth contemporized to examine our own aesthetic and moral judgments. What determines beauty and ugliness in today’s culture that worships surface images?
In this version created, directed and designed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, Belle is not the innocent lass we’ve grown to visualize from Cocteau and Disney versions, not to mention from pre-moving picture fairy stories. Instead she’s a severe modern artist who splatters her drawings with blood, a grim reminder of her mother’s accidental death. She’s also visited by stunning digital projections of Da Vinci horses and her sister in both larger than life and miniature forms, cajoling her ultimately to take the plunge with Mr. Beast. Even more stunning are the images of rain, plants, and broken glass that permeate the stage and the edges of the audience. Michel Smith’s music is suitably eerie and romantic.
Here’s how it looked with a different cast in the French version:
The passion play not only between the two of them, but between him and the narrator (part fairy godmother, part wicked witch) has a much more contemporary, sexual, realistic feel to it than we know from previous incarnations, even to the point of re-creating Henry Fuseli’s famous painting, “The Nightmare.” (I never saw the CW version of “Beauty and the Beast,” in part because of Matthew Gilbert’s delightful pan in the Boston Globe, which is quoted in the program notes.)
ART alumna Diane D’Aquila is The Lady, Bénédicte Décary and Vincent Leclerc are the title characters. Each is as good as the script allows them to be.
In the end, though, the investigation of beauty by playwright Pierre-Yves Lemieux seems as superficial as what we see elsewhere in the culture. The Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical, “Passion” and the Zadie Smith novel, “On Beauty,” to name two, go much deeper than “La Belle et La Bête,” in testing audience/reader expectations about beauty.
Which doesn’t take away from how beautiful “La Belle et La Bête,” is. If only the writing were as four-dimensional as everything else on stage.