THE MYSTIC IN THE THEATRE: ELEONORA DUSE by Eva Le Gallienne

THE MYSTIC IN THE THEATRE: ELEONORA DUSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What prompted American audiences in a period when iconoclasm was at a peak to flock to the performance of an aging Italian-speaking woman who, without makeup, essayed roles from Juliet to Hedda Gabbler...the magic of ""the incomparable Duse,"" who was probably ""the greatest actress the world has ever known"" or will know in the near future. Duse, ""an actress by being the antithesis of an actress"" according to one critic; whose power was labeled ""satanic"" and personality ""devious, hypo-critical domineering, arrogant,"" etc. by one biographer and ""a sainted memory"" by another. Duse, herself sums up their observations by one statement: ""Don't you know that there are a thousand women in me, and that I am tortured by each one in turn."" Miss Le Gallienne, also a formidable figure in the theatre these many years, takes a slightly different but acutely understanding tack. She reduces but does not diminish Duse. She equates her with St. Teresa of Avila, as a supreme individualist, who detested dogma but who saw in the artist something of the divine and who fought a constant battle against her own tremendous ego in order to bring this substance: ""the theatre sprang from religion. It is my greatest wish that, somehow, through me-- in some small way--they may be united"" to the stage. This battle raged through her love affairs, her constant battle with tuberculosis continuing through her triumphant tours and tragic death. It made her an alien figure and, in a sense, a disappointed one. She was never able to achieve her own standards to her own impossible satisfaction. For the theatre audience it's a must.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1966
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux