From Book 1: Performance at l’Atelier

Finally the lights dimmed, along with the patience of the other audience members, whose annoyed glances made everyone shush each other and giggle. Then Roger slipped into the empty seat beside mine. “I said what I did because I assumed you didn’t want to talk about those years,” he whispered. “Now they think they know all about you and won’t ask any more questions. Nobody thinks a monk does anything interesting. It’s novel, of course—but not interesting.”

            The unusual play was punctuated by Roger pointing out everyone he knew and whispering tidbits about their lives. He seemed to know a lot of people, or he thought he did and liked me to know it. He especially pointed out this woman he was infatuated with, Génica Athanasiou, and her lover, the president of those contentious Surrealists, Antonin Artaud.

            Artaud was riveting. He had that chiseled, angular face and those piercing blue-green eyes, thick chestnut hair that grew deep into his forehead and hung chin-length, and a taut body like a flame. He resembled a desert-wandering fanatic. His acting was disdainful of the props, of the stage, of acting itself. He did not get into his character. His voice was deep but he made no effort to modulate it for the sake of inflection or to fit the acoustics of the theatre, and now I thought him much older than the rest of the cast. I could not reconcile his appearance tonight with the youthful, adamant nobleman this afternoon. He was so out of place onstage, yet he succeeded somehow; every time he emitted his evil laugh and cracked his whip with merely a flick of his wrist, the audience gasped.

            This was the man who, according to Roger, had appeared at dress rehearsal for a comedy made-up like a Japanese Kabuki actor, and who had tried to portray the emperor Charlemagne as a man who crawled on all fours. “Artaud’s eccentric,” Roger confided, “to say the least.”

            Few women would have fulfilled the build-up Roger had given Génica but she surpassed it. Not only was she very beautiful, she had a haunting eccentricity that I found appealing. She was ethereal, yet worldly with her jet eyes and cascading bronze-brown hair and rosy skin. Roger whispered she was Romanian. “I don’t know how Artaud captured her, but he did.”

They were quite a pair: Artaud hard and sparse, Génica soft and rounded; her presence a gentle incandescence, and his, a crack of lightning. Her movements, so fluid, seemed to mold the empty air around her as if it were clay. She had only to cross the stage to make it seem that she had changed the positions of everything on stage without touching a prop. And around this lovely girl, his hands waving about his body as he raggedly surpentined, his thin spine bent like a bow, Artaud hovered like some bizarre hawk, unable to separate his own strange energy from his character, to ritualize and repeat, to act.

            It angered me suddenly, the thought of her tolerating his hands on her, intriguing though he was. “How long have they been together?” I asked Roger in a whisper. When he didn’t answer I turned to look at him and saw his grin. He continued to grin at me in a way I found annoying. We didn’t say anything more for the rest of the performance.

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