Fourteen years ago, also on a Sturday, it was the opening of this tribute-performance, marking the declaration of love of the actor Anton Tauf for the poet Nichita Stănescu, passed away at fifty in a December 13. The fact that the actor knew personally the poet gives this poem-performance a special address. While teaching acting, the professor encouraged the young to recite. This impulse led to a class performance of which Marinela Țepuș wrote at the time: "Knots and signs is the title of a book by Nichita Stănescu. A title «materialized» inside a black cube by Ist year acting students of the Faculty of Letters of Cluj. The students were the knots, while the signs came from Nichita. Of course, through the love and generosity of their professor, actor Anton Tauf. So that we could never know if the «happening» I'm referring to can be called performance, recital or more simply and true: «Endless moment from a Nichita universe»". The actor has been bringing the poet to life ever since, persuading us every time that Nichita did not die in December.
We recorded and selected some of Anton Tauf's thoughts about his work on the performance Can't you see that you are standing in my lap, blind man?, in which he's joined by Ramona Dumitrean and Romina Merei.
Eugenia Sarvari: You displayed at "Euphorion" the jewel Let's say long words, which you called afterwards Can't you see that you are standing in my lap, blind man? How did things come together there?
Anton Tauf: I wanted to force a tiptoed reception of Nichita. As a sort of revolt against too much screamed theatre. Shouted theatre. I made an experiment then, I thought a lot and I found the key: talk in a low voice. When you talk in a low voice, the listener's first reactions are subversive. Because we lived in Communism for so long, we whispered, we made jokes in a low voice. But I wanted things to be said so that the spectator could feel the silence hurting him. And not be allowed to scream inside. To hold him in that whisper tension that can be very tragic. It has a tragic sign in it. Girls [Ramona Dumitrean and Romina Merei] liked very much the idea and they were eager to start performing.
You realize how it would be to make this performance in summer, around a camp fire, us standing in yogi positions, while Romina and Ramona's two little girls should play naked, crawling around us?
E.S.: What can you tell us from rehearsals for the performance?
A.T.: You know, commedia dell'arte is very good, but it has its history in the development of theatre. On the one hand. On the other hand, its must be taught by an expert. Because commedia dell'arte is not simply making some movements and considering ourselves comics. Or looking like merry andrews. It has a certain alfabet. I told you about the actors from Piccolo Teatro of Milano and what stunning performances they could get through pantomime. Commedia dell'arte is not necessarily my taste, but I acknowledge it involves a specific science. I remember Moretti, who used to play Arlecchino at Piccolo Teatro and who I saw in Servant of Two Masters. At one point he swallowed a fly that you couldn't see where it came from - arteries, veins. It was terrible.
E.S.: The fly was crawling all through his body?
A.T.: Yes. So the performance of commedia dell'arte is something completely different than kicking somebody's ass on stage. In Can't you see that you are standing in my lap, blind man? Moretti inspired me to give Ramona this topic she dealt with very well. She chose a poem starting with vowels A E I O U. And I told her: "You're looking at A and he's flying. A fly comes and takes him. Then, on another vowel, you swallow letter A. Afterwards you read the rest of the poem following the vowel's trajectory inside you. But not in a grotesque manner, like it was in commedia dell'arte, but as a pleasure. It triggers a Nichita-worthy state of mind". And Ramona managed to do that very well. You must play something else in this poem, not the text itself. Because A E I O U doesn't tell you anything. You have to provide some connotation.
E.S.: Should we get back a bit to the whisper?
A.T.: I can't get rid of this obsession. I don't want verses recited, but whispered. The whisper brings a certain tension, but at the same time a corrupt space. Whisper is like fear, like cold. It's one of the evils of the world. But on the other hand I thought about the warmth felt in many of Nichita's verses. Especially in his love poetry. I don't especially chose certain poems. I never do that. I let the actors themselves look for the poems they like, then I scrape together my script. That's what I did for Can't you see that you are standing in my lap, blind man? I chose a poem published a while ago by Tomozei in a culture journal from Pitești, I am no more than a Blood Stain who speaks and a poem dedicated to Emil Botta. Nichita had forgotten about this poem until he heard it told by me, here in Cluj, at the Conservatory. And he remembered how he had dictated it. I was in concert with "Ars Nova". Cornel Țăranu wrote a score for trombone on this poem because they say this instrument best fits the human voice at baritone level. There was a great trombone player there, Gheorghe Lungu. After that concert, Nichita rose from his seat and told us how Sașa Ivasiuc was visiting him when he dictated this poem - Sașa who died in the earthquake - and how they ran short of paper. So the poet told the writing woman - he wasn't with Dora then -: "write on the wall". And she wrote on the wall. At the end of the concert Nichita said: "May Sașa rest in peace and skies never let Toni rest".
Nichita had his strange ways. He used to sit and talk, then all of a sudden he went berserk, rose up and signalled Dora, or whomever was with him, and he or she had to obey. He could no longer write himself, his hands were shaking bad. He was just making corrections.
E.S.: He made them right away?
A.T.: Yes. Right away. I have been thinking much, very much to one verse, how painfully true does it sound: "I was standing like that, I was standing beaten /like a word stands in the mouth".
It's a very strange moment for an actor. Especially with Shakespeare's plays. When the word hasn't been born yet. And you feel how the thought melted and drained it, who knows how, until it gets to the mouth. And you still hold it there, gripping like a Scrooge. And you don't feel like letting it out. Letting it lost in space. In the air. And then comes this microns-per-second struggle - should I or should I not let it go? And you feel your palate, your mouth, your teeth warming. Just like it happened once with the gyps dentists used to put in your moth to make a mould. And that mould got warm and burned you...
E.S.: So when the word burns you, you let it out?
A.T.: You let it out if you wanted, if you didn't swallow it. But it's just a moment, almost not human. Because the word becomes alive. You feel it has blood, plasm, flesh.
E.S.: The word wants in fact to become independent...
A.T.: Yes, and then you see what strength it has. It breaks your mouth. "I was standing like that", you can stand anyhow, but "like that" has a certain easiness. How like that? "Beaten. Like the word stands in the mouth." When reaching the mouth, the word had already been beaten. Only the thought keeps it septic. When it's in the mouth, it's already maculated.
You know what crossed my mind when I was telling you about this "like that"? It's a line from Shakespeare's The Twelfth Night, that I extremely like: "Something in all this business escapes my understanding". That "something" looks like Nichita's "like that". There are things that only great lovers of Nichita could understand. The lions poem that I recited (The Loss of Consciousness Through Cognition), says at some point like that: "And/ even if without confines, it's profound / confined. / But to see it, you can't". There are such simple words able to decode states and worlds that many people experience, but can't explain. Even if they are very easy to explain. Nichita seemed to me so inhumanly simple. And I always wondered why people can't understand him. Because his words are so powerful. So savoury with their sounds. His images so unusual that they manage to reach metaphysics. And then you practically don't understand rationally, but transcendentally.
E.S.: Did you find in Nichita what you've always looked for in theatre, that beyond?
A.T.: Yes. It's a special aesthetics that helps theatre, painting, other arts. Nichita's poetry. It has genius. He says somewhere about music: "Ah, all you types of music/ cannons with barrel of/ flesh / firing milk children to the enemy / boom! / so much blood for a poor noise!". Do you see that image?! It's got all Nichita's playfulness.