Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is its own, wondrous, magnificent thing.
James Lipton, the host of the U.S. talk show, Inside the Actors' Studio, once worked as a pimp in Paris, France. — News Item
I've been around this business a long time, and I've never seen your equal. You have that rare ability to transform an ordinary performance into a work of art. And your empathy is extraordinary! I was just observing your session with Fifi. Well, her birth name is Margaret, born in Des Moines, I believe, family with the Red Cross, but Fifi is her professional name, so to speak, and she's the kind of performer who really opens up when she feels the kind of rapport you bring into the room.
So there you are. Standing there. You pause outside in the corridor. You do your breathing exercises and you walk in and she looks up and she asks what you have in mind. And you take a beat. You're thinking. We can tell you're thinking. This isn't scripted. Well, in a sense it's scripted, but you bring a spontaneity to the script that makes it sound like you're saying the words for the very first time. You take a beat, and then you say, softly, "The lash?"
"Do you want to give, or to receive?" Fifi asks you. She has the most... extraordinary... French... accent. Perhaps picked up from her grandparents, who were Red Cross ambulance drivers with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas during the Great War. All over France they drove. Gertrude with the literary gift and Alice with those naughty brownies. "Alice! Another plate of brownies!" Ernest would say. Hemingway. But we stray. "Give, or receive?" Fifi asks. And that's when you utterly transform the room.
"Your choice," you say. Do you realize how brilliant that was? How truly brilliant and original? You transformed the whole piece, because now what we're seeing is role reversal! You've become the provider, and she's become the client. It's her choice. Entirely up to her. She's at a loss for words. This has never happened before. "I think.." she begins. "I think I will be...the giver." You can hear her voice tremble. You could have heard a pin drop. I heard a pin drop once. It made that little ping! that is more hushed than silence itself.
Then you took off your shirt. You've never drawn the line at nudity. A lot of punters, they want it understood that the shirt stays on. But off comes the shirt and the air... was... filled... with... electricity. Fifi begins to stroke your back with the lash. And what... you... did... then -- why am I telling you this? You were there! You were the one who made it happen, who brought it into being. You began to scream so convincingly there wasn't a person up and down the corridor who wasn't convinced they were hearing real pain. Talk about the Method! What sense memories did you draw on, to recreate in your mind that kind of pain? Where did it come from? How deep within? It's a mystery. All we can do is marvel.
I'm telling you, I was hugging myself with delight at the privilege, the honor, of being in the same room. I've never seen anything like it. You are unique in your generation. Do you realize that? Do you know how good you are? Applause, audience!
And we'll be back next week with our guest, a drunken sailor who can act so sober he gets right past the doorman at the Crazy Horse.
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