conversations with Marceau cannot but deepen people's appreciation and understanding of
The liner notes for the vinyl recording
Marcel Marceau talksand talks and talks. The
poet of silence is only silent professionally. The prince of mimes is one of the most
verbal of men I have ever encountered.
His mind is fast and his
tongue keeps pace. Go and see him in his bizarre and lovely cottage just outside Paris. A
converted farmhouse, it stands shyly but handsomely in its own grounds. It is a Merlin's
cave of riches.
thingspictures, objets d'art, bright little things that he tucks away like a magpie
and scatters around his house. Some are of value, some merely offer remembrances of people
and time past.
He lives simply in his
farmhouse. He eats sparingly and drinks hardly at all. He is a perfect host and a very
serious conversationalist, in a way that few but Frenchmen can be serious
conversationalists. He talks about art, life, philosophy, and womennot necessarily
in that order of prioritylooking like an urchin Voltaire, his bright eyes gleaming,
and his unaccented but highly personalized brand of English bubbling out like a fountain.
When he talks he moves
little. A nervous gesture of the hand to rearrange his hair, or perhaps a hand out in
explanation or confirmation. No, Marcel is not one of your mobile talkerspossibly he
knows the value of movement too wellbut the animation of his face does make a
difference between seeing Marcel talk, and merely listening to him. Hearing this record
for the first time I was very much aware of the man's presencehe has a voice
unusually evocative of his personality, perhaps because it is a nonactor's voice belonging
to an actor.
Marceau has transformed
the art of mime in his lifetime. Indeed he has made it a popular art medium, and he has
himself become one of the most celebrated of theatrical artists. He can sell out a
three-week New York season at the New York City Center, he plays on campuses all across
the country, and his international forays from his little French farmhouse have become a
way of life for him.
Naturally he had
teachersCharles Dullin and, of course, Etienne Decroux, for exampleand talks
about these on this record, just as he talks, very knowledgeably, about the history of
mime. But what must be stressed is the originality of Marceau's own quest. In many ways it
might be thought that he discovered and adapted more than createdfor he was through
scholarship and instinct trying to recreate and then reinterpret a theatrical tradition as
old as the theater itself.
This process is one of the
continuing themes of these conversations, and Marceau collects facts as eagerly as he
collects curiosities and paintings. It is fascinating to hear him here talk about mime
from the Greeks to the commedia dell'arte, from the way the Grimaldis moved from Italy to
London (although, Marcel, it was Sadler's Wells they played at, not the Palladium) and how
this influenced the English music hall tradition, which in turn, through Fred Karno and
his great star, Charlie Chaplin, helped create the silent movie comedy that meant so much
to the development of Marceau himself.
philosophizeshere we find him philosophizing about the public, and the role of the
theater. He also talks about the universality of humanity, and his denial of ethnic
influenceshe is half-Jewish by the way and during the war was forced to hide from
the German Gestapoin his world, preferring the more general concept of universal
man. Sometimes he gives sharp little insights into his worksuch as where he explains
the role of the white mask in his mimeand he defines mime, its function and its
Serious, engaged, and very
vitalwhen asked whether he cares too much about old age, death, and suicide, you can
hear his voice throw its hands up in horrorthese conversations with Marceau cannot
but deepen people's appreciation and understanding of his art. I owe Marcel Marceau much
more than I could easily express here, and this record is another addition to that debt.
Former theater and dance critic for the New York Times