Marcel Marceau, R.I.P.

Marcel Marceau 1923 -2007

When Marcel Marceau died Saturday at 84, with him died Bip the Clown: the silent, white-faced stage persona of the man internationally recognized as the face of mime. What may also have died, or at least lost its greatest proponent, is the modern flowering of an art form that stretches back through the Italian Renaissance to its roots in ancient Greece.

"He was the living embodiment of a long tradition," said Gideon Lester, acting artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, where Mr. Marceau last performed in 2004. "And I can't imagine anyone following him."

The rest of Louise Kennedy's report on the death of Marcel Marceau offers more words about the life of an artist whose professional words were rare - actually, only one! (To hear that one word and to see his "walking in the wind," watch this scene from Mel Brooks' Silent Movie.) I wonder if Gideon Lester was aware of the neat pun in his comment, "He was the living embodiment of a long tradition." Marcel Marceau taught us all about body language long before anyone had ever heard that term.

They say he "brought poetry to silence..." Certainly, he told stories without words and painted pictures with only the brush of his own body on the canvas of our imagination. By comparison, our own gestures and movements seem clumsy and inarticulate and perhaps that's why we are drawn into a mime's performance, by our longing to move and speak with equal grace and simplicity.

St. Francis wrote, "Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words." As clumsy as may be our gestures of care and compassion, they can eloquently embody the long tradition of the Word who speaks still, silently, in our hearts.

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