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Salient. Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 4. Monday, April 8, 1963

Marcel Marceau is a Genius

page 6

Marcel Marceau is a Genius

"Marcel Marceau is a genius," said a French lecturer. There was nothing much to go on in that statement, so I went to see for myself. Although a newcomer to mime, I was not disappointed.

Marceau produced an astonishing display of mute acting, astonishing not only in its technical skill but in the range and depth of its emotional expression. Advertised as a comedy entertainer, he was never just that. Many of his sketches were satirical, bitter, and even a little horrifying.

All of them, like the tightrope walker he created, teetered between comedy and pathos. The element of pathos was always near, even in the most slapstick routines. It seemed personified in Bip, a Chaplin-like character who was always up against the world.

As an obviously accomplished street violinist, we saw Bip drowned out by a raucous brass band and pushed off his spot by a mandolin player, eventually departing resignedly clashing cymbals in the same brass band.

This illustrates the miniature but incisive quality of Marceau's work. Other sketches lampooned the mannerisms and foibles of high society, modern pseudo-artists (in the form of a sculptor), and a law court.

How did this one man in a simple white costume, alone on a stage without properties, manage to create this kaleidoscopic world of scenes and characters? I'm still wondering. His face (painted white) was a rubbery one capable' of almost any expression.

His arms, hands and fingers could form a character with a single distinctive gesture.

His ability to suggest the existence of another person or object was phenomenal. Like a mass hypnotist he had the audience gasping as he swayed across the stage on an imaginary tightrope, or mystified as he climbed a nonexistent staircase without taking his feet off the floor.

It seemed his genius was not so much in creating a staircase in mid-air, but in somehow keeping himself anchored to the floor when his every action said he should be ten feet or more above the stage.

The highlight of the evening was his final act "The Masks Maker." With swift changes in his plasticine face, he put on one mask after another. One of them, a cheerfully grinning mask, became immovably stuck on the maker's face.

His despairing struggles to remove it contrasted grotesquely with the grinning mask. At last, with only feeble strength he drew off the mask and exposed underneath a face of utter exhaustion.

An impressive piece, which fittingly concluded the show of an artist worth seeing.