This morning’s New York Times carries the announcement that Marcel Marceau, the famed French mime, is dead at 84.
My wife and I once had the opportunity to see Marceau perform at a local college campus in the late 1970s, shortly after we were married. For close to two hours silence filled the theater as Marceau mimed a myriad of human emotions on stage through the sad clown character of Bip.
I remember marveling at the way he moved his body to simulate walking against the wind, at his characterizations of the stages in a man’s life, at his portrayal of being trapped in an ever-shrinking room, or discovering a worm in an imaginary apple he pretended to eat.
“Mime, like music, knows neither borders nor nationalities,” he once said.
That was especially true for us that evening. When we were newly weds, my wife spoke no English. After we came stateside from Europe, each activity we attended—everything from watching a movie on television to having dinner with friends—required that I translate the gist of the conversation, the meaning of each turn of phrase.
But the evening we attended the Marceau performance, there was no need for translation. Like everyone else in the audience that evening, my wife understood exactly what he was saying—through the movements of his body, portrayed in silence.