"Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea" was Duse's first performance in New York in the early twenties. The Lady from the Sea played at the old, huge Metropolitan Opera House. I sat two thirds of the way back in the orchestra, but Duse's voice floated easily through the theater. It was somewhat high pitched. Having had difficulty with her voice n her youth, she has trained herself to use it in some particular fashion. What was extraordinary was that the voice did not seem to be projected toward you; rather, it simply seemed to float toward the audience.
What I did see was something unusual: a presence, a sense of something taking place before my eyes that was at once fleeting in its presentation but frozen in my awareness. It was like a lingering taste.
When I walked away from the performance, I had a somewhat confused reaction, a conflicting response. Certainly what I had seen was something unusual, but where was the acting that I had come to expect? Where were the moments of emotional outburst? At that time, I did not know the play well, and it was acted in Italian. But I remember thinking that the moment that Duse pleaded with her husband to permit her to away with the stranger, and he finally consented, the most wonderful smile shone on her face. Duse had a strange way of smiling. It seemed to come from the toes. It seemed to move through the body and arrive at the face and mouth and resembled the sun coming out of the clouds. When she smiled, I thought to myself: "This is really what the play is all about. This is really what she wanted all the time. She didn't really want to go, she just wanted the freedom to choose. "
And as I kept thinking over that scene, it suddenly occurred to me: "What am I saying? I saw a play that I don't really know, in a language that I don't really understand, and the actress told me what the play is all about."
Duse demonstrated to me that acting was not only emotional outbursts, or even the presentation of depths of emotion. In her, I saw a moment to moment awareness of the life of the character. Duse had the most extraordinary facility of just sitting on the stage and creating a person who was thinking and feeling, without the particular intensity that ordinarily characterizes emotional behavior. "
"The next play I saw Duse in was Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. I can still see her as Mrs. Alving sitting on the sofa talking to Pastor Manders. Her chin was supported on her hand in a thoughtful gesture which had been caught by some of the photographs of her. Here was a person sitting, thinking, talking; and without my being able to follow the text of the play, it was very clear that the words were sounding within her. Duse was able to find gestures which were not merely natural but most expressive of what would be difficult to suggest any other way. In Act 1, when Mrs. Alving looks offstage, she spies Oswald flirting with Regina; suddenly the hidden past appears before her. It was as if waves swept onto the stage and enveloped Duse at that moment. Her arms suddenly brushed upwards as if the wall were falling on her. But her hands flailed hopelessly, as if the wall werer made of cobwebs that clung to her hands and enveloped them. She seemed to be struggling to free herself.
With her gestures, Duse was not only real, she was also revealing the theme of each play, or each scene. Of all the actors I have seen, Duse was the most perceptive in trying to embody the theme of the play. Her gestures often became a heightened expressiveness. Michel Checkhov called these kinds of gestures "psychological gestures."
...Many years after I had seen Duse, I was taken by Cliford Odets to meet Charles Chaplin. Chaplin seemed to me to be the epitome of the professional actor. He couldn't do anything just by talking. His discussions were always accompanied by demsonstrations that he illustrated with his entire being. Clifford said, "Lee, why don't you tell Charlie of your memories of Duse?" That was all that was necessary to set Chaplin off. In the next hour, Caplin demonstrated all styles of acting, the difference between Japanese and Chinese acting, the way in which Italian actors worked always with a prop. He wound up with an imitation of Duse. Yet, this great mimic could not capture her style, because there was nothing that she did outside the scene and the character. She had no mannerisms of her own and therefore it was impossible to imitate her. She was merely a vehicle for the idea of the play."
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