"The drama is in the verse," says director Frederic Dussenne. "The drama. That is for me the important thing about Paul Claudel."
"Listen," Dussenne says. Then he reads, earnestly, and in French, from one of Claudel's plays.With his finger, Dussenne traces the text. Claudel has written this play in the form of a poem. The lines end, not with a comma or at the end of a sentence, but rather as the author deems necessary for emphasis.
Dussenne accentuates his breathing to show where Claudel wanted a pause and where he did not. He gestures proudly toward the script as he reads.
At one point, where Claudel gave the character seven lines to say without a pause, Dussenne's voice rises and his words tumble over each other.
"Do you see?," Dussenne asks. "Here the character is very moved. He is desperate. The form, the verse, gives the emotions to the characters."
The only English author who wrote as Claudel did, he says, was William Shakespeare.
Paul Claudel was born in the Champagne region of France in 1868. While he was a prominent diplomat, poet and playwright in his own country, Claudel is not as well-known in the United States.
His sister, Camille Claudel, is probably more familiar. She was a talented sculptress and Auguste Rodin's lover, who spent the last 30 years of her life in an insane asylum after Rodin refused to marry her. She was the subject of the 1989 Academy Award-nominated film, "Camille Claudel."
Yet Paul Claudel also has a following in the United States, and in Utah. What they lack in numbers, his fans make up for in knowledge and in enthusiasm.
One of Claudel's devotees is University of Utah professor Richard Berchan. He is president of the Paul Claudel Society of America and recently traveled to Brussels, Belgium, to see Frederic Dussenne's production of a Claudel play.
Dussenne welcomed Berchan into his home. "He gave me his bed," says Berchan. "I slept in the bathroom on a mattress," says Dussenne, happily.
"There was born a friendship," says Berchan. "Also the thought that something must be done to bring Claudel's plays to America."
On that same trip, Berchan met Father Joseph Boly, a priest and educator and, Berchan says, the world's leading Claudel scholar. Father Boly is the president of the Paul Claudel Society of Belgium.
The two presidents and the director tried to bring Dussenne's production of "L'Annonce Faite A Marie" ("The Tidings Brought to Mary") to the United States - but they couldn't find any funding. So, they videotaped the play and brought Father Boly and Dussenne to discuss the film.
In Salt Lake, the film and discussion will be preceded by a presentation of scenes, in English, by University of Utah theater students.
"Tidings Brought to Mary" will be presented in the Lab Theatre, Performing Arts Building, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8. The performance is free and open to the public.
All three men expect Utah audiences will enjoy the play. It is the story of two sisters, saintly Violaine and bitter Mara. Violaine is so charitable that she kisses a leper. Through her faith, she brings Mara's baby back to life.
The two women both want to be married to the same man. In the end, Mara kills Violaine.
On one level the play is a tale of domestic life. On another level it is a religious parable.
In many respects, Father Boly says, Claudel was telling his own story in "Tidings" and probing Camille's life, too. Camille was as aggressive as Mara in her early life, Boly believes.
Says Dussenne, "This is very important: There are five versions of the play. It is a play he reworked and reworked for 56 years. It is the only play he reworked until he died.
"He did the work over and over, to justify Mara."