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Interior Action: The Impact of Noh on Jean-Louis Barrault John K. Gillespie Jean-Louis Barrault (b. 1910) came into contact with Noh almost from the beginning of his career. Indeed, in the early 1920’s, informed knowledge of Japanese theater, particularly the Noh, was gradually increasing in France. The year 1921 marked the publication of Arthur Waley’s signal work The No Plays of Japan and the last of Noel Peri’s pioneering works on Noh, Cinq No: Drames lyriques japonais, as well as the arrival of Paul Claudel in Japan as French ambassador. In 1923 Jacques Copeau and Suzanne Bing, prompted by the work of Waley and Peri, were preparing their students at the VieuxColombier to stage the Noh play Kantan. In August of the same year, Camille Poupeye wrote favorably of Noh as an “ensemble of visual and auditory sensations which we would be wrong to deny simply because they escape us.”l In 1925 Franz Toussaint published an adaptation of the Noh play Sumidagawa (The River Sumida), under the title Les Pins chantent. Copeau expressed interest in Toussaint’s adaptation, giving it several public readings, and even planned “to perform it in the Japanese way.”2 And in 1926 Gaston Renondeau published the first of his flowing, lyrical translations of Noh plays. Of course, Claudel’s writings on Noh and adaptation in his own plays of several aspects of Noh dramaturgy provided the greatest impetus to the appreciation of Noh in France. Barrault thus did not lack for avenues of contact with this theater art. His experience with Noh can be divided into three phases. He became aware of Noh early in his career through his relationship with Charles Dullin (who had studied with Copeau), JOHN K. GILLESPIE is Assistant Professor of Japanese and Comparative Liter­ ature at the Center of Asian Studies, St. John’s University, and has published articles on Claudel and Noh and on shingeki (modem Japanese theater). 325 326 Comparative Drama the accomplished mime Etienne Marcel Decroux, and Antonin Artaud. His understanding was later deepened substantially through his long friendship and professional collaboration with Claudel. Finally, he saw several performances of Noh plays, beginning with the European tour of the Kanze troupe in 1957 and including the plays he experienced when he travelled to Japan in 1960. I Barrault joined Dullin’s school at the Atelier in 1931 and, in four years there, was able to absorb the legacy of the VieuxColombier experiment. The connection with the Vieux-Colombier was especially important in view of the fact that Decroux, who had been with Copeau and Bing and had participated in their rehearsals of the Noh play Kantan, taught mime at the Atelier while Barrault was there. Barrault thus received a prac­ tical introduction into the art of movement in Noh (as Dullin and Decroux perceived it), an experience which greatly en­ hanced his own exploration of mime. Barrault writes of Dullin’s sometimes grudging approval of his and Decroux’ frequent, lengthy mimic sessions: “two Frenchmen were attaining, in his view, the technical perfection of Japanese actors.”3 While at the Atelier, Barrault became closely acquainted with Artaud, who had studied briefly under Dullin in 1921-22. Artaud’s ideas on revolutionizing the theater were by 1931 beginning to crystallize. He had begun his career as an actor in 1920 at the Oeuvre with Lugné-Poë but, finding Dullin’s approach more to his liking, switched camps the following year. He was particularly impressed with Dullin’s concept of actor training, which emphasized inner concentration, and with his appropriation of the art of the Japanese actor which brooked no accessories. Indeed, he cites the Japanese actor as Dullin’s “ideal” and refers to the Japanese as “our immediate masters, our inspiration. . . .”4 Soon, however, Artaud broke with Dullin, even to the point of disparaging his style. Nevertheless, he had learned much about the Noh from Dullin. In addition, in 1922 he had observed Cambodian dancers at Marseilles and had been deeply impressed by a Balinese dramatic troupe at the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931. Thus, his own approach to theater came to be indelibly marked by Asian theatrical arts, if not exclusively...


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