The Playgoer: The Divine Sarah

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Divine Sarah, not Silverman.

The Jewish Museum has a real treat for Theatre History junkies. (And how many museum shows can you say that about?). "Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama" open tomorrow and runs all the way through April 02. Despite the lame title, the exhibit seems a terrific treasure trove:

The exhibition will illuminate the life and art of this remarkable performer through over 250 spectacular and rarely seen objects in all media—painting, sculpture, photography, costumes, stage designs, Art Nouveau theater posters and jewelry, her furniture and personal effects, as well as a recording of her voice and selected films in which she starred.

Film clips include excerpts from her gender-bending Hamlet, by the way.

Naturally, the draw for non-specialists is Bernhardt as Celebrity:
Among the most represented personages of her time, this extremely thin, frizzy-haired belle juive fascinated her contemporaries: she sat for many of the most fashionable artists of her time, was perhaps the most photographed woman in the world, and attached her name to products ranging from hair curlers to liqueurs.

Ah, the 19th century. When theatre was the movies and stage actors could command such attention. While we assume today theatre cannot possibly have the exposure and accessibility of tv and film, notice how it once did. Exhaustive (exhausting?) touring and culture-industry and advertising machinery did their part in making such a performer "accessible" to millions. So it's remarkable that even in "real" numbers someone like Bernhardt experienced a fame quite compatible to a Britney or Madonna.

Now Britney as Hamlet, there's a boffo idea...

Here's a review (full text online, for a change) from today's New York Sun.

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