The last performer one would expect to be struck dumb by the failure of a sound system is Marcel Marceau. But that is what happened at the Kennedy Center's Opera House last night as the master of pantomime was beginning "Angel," the third skit on his opening program.
Suddenly, the Mozart music that accompanied Marceau's characterization became inaudible. The performer bowed apologetically, the stage lights were dimmed and the curtain came down. When, after a quarter hour, it rose again, one was acutely aware that classical pantomime is far from being a theater of silence.
Several of Marceau's wordless monodramas are as carefully choreographed to music as a formal dance. The angel's flight and fall to earth, for instance, seems to be a gloss on Fokine's "Dying Swan." In other works, the rhythmic patter of his feet sets up expectations with which he then toys. And sometimes the audience's laughter is crucial for his timing.
Much of Marceau's current repertory is familiar from his many previous visits. In "The Cage" he again makes one see the imaginary prison walls. In "David and Goliath" he now has to work harder to portray the youthful David, whereas formerly it was the big bully who required more care. Yes, even under the white face and in that highly tuned body, there are signs of the passage of years.
Now there's hardly any difference between the "style" pantomimes of the program's first half and the Bip characterizatons after the intermission. In all his works, Marceau is the lovable fool. Gently irony is his constant attitude, though no reason exists why pantomime could not convey violence or hedonism. Within his well-tempered universe, though, Marceau can be complex. "Angel" is such a work. Like a juggler, the performer displayed the distinct pleasures of being good and being slightly evil.