Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Austin Playhouse, May 20 - June 27

This is a pleasant and inconsequential little evening of cabaret. Go and listen to the Austin Playhouse staging of Blau and Shuman's 1968 compendium Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. If you concentrate on the words, you may get a pale and distant impression of the genius who was Jacques Brel.

These are the problems of translation. The music stands outside language, but Brel's stories and lyrics are deeply embedded in the time, the culture, the national character and the man himself.

Let's try a visual equivalent, with American painters. Think of Edward Hopper's stark cityscapes or of Andrew Wyeth's haunting painting "Christina's World." Here they are; you can click the images to view larger versions.

Then imagine that you'd never seen the originals. Your only access was via a sketch done in twenty minutes with a blunt charcoal pencil by a 20-year-old art student. The detail disappears, color is gone and the context is lost, because you have no information about the rest of the artists' work.

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