With her great mane of hair looking magnificent one minute and Medusa-like the next, she's a glam gorgon, both utterly credible and nearly Joan Crawford-esque in determination to stare the medium down. Paprika Steen is the kind of actress who revels in making herself unattractive, though the ravaged result is less "plain" than its own kind of masochistic spectacle. (Thea is the very picture of a proud 25-year-old beauty two decades and umpteen cosmos later.) It's a flamboyant, arresting, faultless star turn — even if Applause itself is finally just a vehicle. To really gauge what she's capable of, we'd probably need to see that Virginia Woolf? in its entirety.
APPLAUSE opens Fri/13 in Bay Area theaters.