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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Marcel Marceau
by Laura Hitchcock


The tag line in the lobby of the Geffen Theatre Wednesday night was"Where did you see him first?" Those who said never were surrounded by those who applauded before one of Marcel Marceau's signature pieces as well as after. This reviewer saw him in Paris when we were both younger, in San Francisco where he gave an interview and signed his children's book for my little son and, finally, in tonight's performance that blows the term Twilight Years off the planet.

Slightly bent, neck a little wrinkled beneath the white clown make-up, Marceau demonstrates the value of following your bliss, physically, every day. A little fencing, not much wine, and a lot of mime are the recipe he's followed since the 1940s, when he began practicing and refining an art that had its heyday in 16th-century Italy's Commedia del Arte.

He admits the influence of Charlie Chaplin but his own sensibility and objectivity make this program uniquely his own and a testament to the evolution of this art of silence, movement and observation. Although his work is absolutely clear, it's often subtle, particularly in the more profound programs in Act I, and repays close attention. From a list of 73 programs, he selects 8-10 for each performance.

Opening night Act I's Pantomimes of Style included such Marceau classics as The Public Garden in which the mime depicts women knitting, gentlemen doffing their caps, little boys playing ball; The Birdkeeper, a stunning tour-de-force in which he transforms himself into a fierce proud variety of birds; his famous Youth, Maturity, Old Age, Death, a five-minute piece displaying the young man of the Paris stage springing along, eagerly drinking up every sight, then maturing into a man whose steps slow and whom nothing surprises, then trembling with the onset of old age, finally motionless in death.

In The Trial, he portrays the judge in a key role, pondering, sinking his chin in his hands; becomes the lawyers who depict the stabbing death of which the defendant is accused; and ultimately dons the hangman's noose in execution. Marceau likes to end with a spiritual piece like "The Hands", which make us supremely conscious of the gift of bodily expression which he has learned so well. The left hand may not know what the right hand is doing but Marceau, like a puppeteer, makes us keenly aware of the conscious or unconscious acts of violence of the body on the one hand and the soul on the other.

In Act II, Pantomimes of Bip, Marceau sees everything through the eyes of his creation, the playful clown Bip with his famous stovepipe hat and red flower. Marceau found Bip, his inner child, in 1946 and has been giving him gorgeous free rein to follow his curiosity and imagination ever since. Although Bip Travels By Sea is somewhat predictable, Bip as a Lion Tamer, in which Marceau lets Bip become the lion, is a pure delight and the final panto, The Mask Maker, fascinates as, by simply passing his hand over his face, he becomes happy, sad, faster, faster, until the person is lost in the play of emotions.

Marceau was attended by two young mimes who are his students and artists in their own right. In this production Gyongyi Biro and Alexander Neander, dressed and posed as classic 16th century mimes in an homage to the form's source, took turns holding the placards that announced the pantomimes. For those who can't get to Paris this year, be glad, be very glad Marcel Marceau has come to you!

MARCEL MARCEAU
Created and performed by Marcel Marceau
With Gyongyi Biro and Alexander Neander
Lighting Coordinator: Jacques Deliot
Sound Coordinator: Philippe Lacroix
Running time: 2 hour, 15, minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood, LA, ph: (310) 208-5454
July 31-August 18, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock July 31.
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ęCopyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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