It’s pretty hard to love a thief—but I did. The name of the thief was Fred Neumann, and he stole my voice.
It was in “pré-événement” Paris around 1967, and I’d just put the first good writing I’d ever done on paper: The B. Beaver Animation. And I was directing Mother Courage, and Fred was the cook, and David Warrilow was the chaplain, and Ruth Maleczech was dumb Katrin, and I knew from the very first moment that what I’d thought was my voice—the voice I thought I’d found in The B. Beaver Animation—was not mine at all. Fred proved that when, as Mabou Mines, we did The B. Beaver Animation together in 1972. How painfully clear it became that I couldn’t write for myself at all! I could only write for him.
And now the thief is gone. Is my voice buried with him? Not remotely. For any voice stolen by the voice thief (and there have been so many—Beckett’s, Franz Kroetz’s, Chuck Mee’s, Frank Wedekind’s), they all live on as Fred’s voice. And for the writer, to be reincarnated by an actor—that is an immortality.
About the same time Fred stole my voice, Honora Fergusson stole my heart. What do you say to a gorgeous Celtic lass whose father was a famous Dante scholar, who says to you, in her best Mae West accent, “Why don’t you come up and verify with me sometime?”
We were all trying to make a buck in “doublage,” meaning to verify text: We’d sit over a Steinbeck, for example, and read dialogue as it passes over a line, while the writer watches the screen to see if the words lip-synch. And verify I did for Honora, who translated scripts for Mermoz Studios.
We’d work all the spring night on the Île Saint-Louis, drinking cognac and smoking Gauloises, and walk home in the beautiful spring dawn on the Seine, and not once did we succumb to that indigenously American disease called “Galloping April-in-Paris-itis.” Because Honora had fallen in love with Fred till death did them part.
And much as I suffered a “stolen heart” as I watched her great performances in Mabou Mines’s Lear and DollHouse, it was right there in springtime in Paris that my heart was first stolen forever by a ménage à trois of trust. Fred trusted her and she trusted me and we all trusted the power of love, and I think that each of us stole the hearts of each other—seduced by trusting.
Lee Breuer is the founding co-artistic director of Mabou Mines.
A just and thriving theatre ecology begins with information for all. If you are able, please join us in this mission by making a donation. As we reckon with the impact of COVID-19, the theatre field needs committed and nuanced journalism. Free and unlimited access to AmericanTheatre.org is one way that we and our publisher, Theatre Communications Group, are eliminating barriers to crucial resources during this crisis. When you support American Theatre and TCG, you support these emergency resources and our long legacy of quality nonprofit arts journalism. Click here to make your fully tax-deductible donation today!