‘The Damned’ review: Theatergoers will either love or hate Ivo van Hove’s eerie production

‘The Damned’ runs through July 28 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave., armoryonpark.org

Musical theater fans unfamiliar with experimental European performance art got a shock to their systems last week with the announcement that Belgian director Ivo van Hove will helm a reconceived Broadway revival of “West Side Story.”

Van Hove, an unapologetically avant-garde director, originally became known in New York for his strange, self-conscious, visually-oriented interpretations of classic plays at venues like Brooklyn Academy of Music and New York Theatre Workshop.

Three seasons ago, he directed two Arthur Miller dramas on Broadway — “A View from the Bridge” and “The Crucible” — and “Lazarus,” a new musical with songs by David Bowie, at NYTW shortly before Bowie’s sudden death.

While I have consistently found van Hove’s aesthetic to be overblown, overindulgent, pretentious and bewildering, others have praised it as visionary, freethinking and electrifying.

Those who like his work (or have yet to make up their minds) can check out his latest production, “The Damned,” which is playing a short run at the cavernous drill hall space of the Park Avenue Armory on the Upper East Side.

Not unlike a combination of the TV soap opera “Dynasty” and the musical “Cabaret,” “The Damned” explores a rich and dysfunctional German industrialist family during the early 1930s, as the Hitler regime looks to consolidate power and eliminate rivals.

Based on the screenplay of the 1969 Visconti film, “The Damned” criticizes the way in which members of society react to political changes by balancing moral concerns with the desire for self-preservation — and self-interest.

The cast is made up of French-speaking actors from the Comédie-Française, a centuries-old troupe that has not performed in NYC in over a decade. English supertitles are projected in multiple locations.

With scenography and lighting design by Jan Versweyveld (van Hove’s professional and life partner), “The Damned” is a typical van Hove production, with a large open playing space, a slow pace and no intermission.

Eerie background music accompanies a lot of disturbing imagery, including a woman being tarred and feathered and live video of actors screaming from inside of closed coffins.

After the first 10 minutes, one can sense the audience divide into those who love it and those who hate it.

Which side will you be on?