DANIEL RYAN ADLER
DANIEL RYAN ADLER
“It’s true that mine is a dying art,” said the mime, “but then what art isn’t dying?”
We were sitting al fresco at a cafe on Via Cavour, sipping macchiati. His performance the night before had sold out completely. Perhaps most memorable was the act when he pretended to be a member of the audience, watching his own performance. The applause sounded like boiling water.
“This way I do God’s work.”
The mime had a difficult to place accent, a bit Dutch, a bit German, a bit English—a product of his elite upbringing. “What do you mean by that, God’s work?” I leaned forward with my pen and notebook.
“Ever since I was a child,” he replied, sipping his macchiato, “I knew I was destined for the stage.” A fleck of foam hung from a hair in his thin mustache. He silently reset his cup on its dish. “And not as an actor—my memory is far too bad. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast. No,” he leaned back in his chair, smiling, “I was destined to stand in front of people and make them think. Without words. Of course, it didn’t occur to me until much later that I could be an artist.”
I’d learned that he hated being called a mime—he only ever referred to himself as an artist. “Can you isolate a single moment when you knew you wanted to be an, an artist?”
His gaze became briefly distant before his moist eyes refocused, bright with intelligence. He paused and laughed. “Of course. It was the day I told my father I hated him. Of course my hatred didn’t stop me from taking his money all those years, once I convinced him that I could in fact, become an artist. But yes, I was twelve years old. My father was in oil, Royal Dutch Shell, extremely overbearing. My mother was a Bavarian Catholic who went to church every day, and so I was left alone with my nanny, a French Huguenot named Cherise—you can imagine the role religion played in my upbringing. Anyway, my father had given strict instructions to Cherise that I finish my homework before I was free to do anything else. She was very lax with me, of course, most of the time we simply sat together in the kitchen, as she crocheted and I daydreamed. But one day my father came home early and caught me daydreaming over a snack of whey curds. He slammed his hands on the table, ‘Do you think I got to where I am by staring off into space?’ And I replied by”—he barked a laugh, making me jump in my seat—“standing with my own hands on the table. I mirrored his gesticulations, his facial expressions, the way his upper lip twitched. ‘What are you doing?’ he said. And I imitated him, all in silence mind you, and with a two second delay. Well,” the mime laughed again, “he sent me to bed without dinner and from then on our positions were fairly well delineated.”
The mime smiled and, sighing, extracted a cigarette and lighter. “I was quite glad when he died,” he puffed. “It was his death that gave me the idea for my “greatest performance,” he said, making air quotes with his fingers. He was referring to The Funeral, performed at The English Theater in Berlin in 2017. A video of his performance from that night has four hundred twenty-eight million views on YouTube. It has been called the most important moment in modern mime artistry, a performance that has rejuvenated the art: The camera zooms into the mime’s face as he begins to cry silently. He then rips out tufts of his hair and, with tears streaming down his face, beats his breast. Panning back, the camera focuses on a row of audience members with wet cheeks.
In the wake of this success, the mime was hired as a professional mourner for the Kuwaiti Emir’s brother’s funeral. Controversy erupted when he gave a comparable performance, though through some misunderstanding, the Emir had not expected his miming to be silent. Legend had it that the Emir had seen the Berlin performance online, assumed that the sound was turned off in the video, and hired him without knowing that he was a mime and not a professional mourner. After, the Emir demanded that the mime return what he’d been paid. The mime refused. The Emir was scandalized, the mime forbidden to return to Kuwait. Not that he cared—in an interview with La Repubblica he said, “I never had any intention of returning to that godforsaken dessert” [sic].
The mime continued, holding his tiny cup aloft, “My hatred for Daddy allowed me to summon those feelings of mockery that night at The English Theater. He had always patronized me financially, but with the negative connotations of patronage as well. He never considered my art worthy of the stage, always calling it a hobby, but he preferred to give me money than let me live in the streets. It’s true though, that without him I wouldn’t be here now.”
The foam fleck on his mustache was gone. The mime’s normally jovial face became deadly serious. Two streams of smoke exited his nostrils as he spoke, “In other words, if I had loved him, I would never have been able to pretend I loved him. It’s that very principle so few understand about my art: I am a negative mirror for the audience. I absorb their fears and show them their reflection. I am no longer myself when I perform.”
“Is this what you mean when you say you’re doing God’s work?”
“In part. Because in reflecting them, I also see myself. And that,” he said, looking up at me from grinding out his cigarette in an ashtray, “that—is divine.”
Less than a month later the mime was found facedown in a London hotel room. Sudden coronary death. Since mine was one of the last interviews he ever gave, it brought me a host of new assignments—I could suddenly choose who I wanted to interview and when. Days later, my schedule was booked until the end of the year.
Except for a Christmas party in early December. There, I met the reporter who covered the mime’s funeral. She mentioned how much she enjoyed the interview I conducted with him, and we both agreed that it was tragic he’d died so young and in the prime of his career.
“It’s amazing,” she said, “what he did for miming as an art. He had so many fans. And they were all so devoted. That day,” she shook her head, “those who couldn’t enter the crowded church spilled into the street. Thousands,” she said. “You should have seen it. Nearly everyone was in tears.”
Daniel Ryan Adler was born in Brooklyn, NY, and has lived in Portland, Oregon. He studied literature and philosophy at NYU and creative writing at Edinburgh University, and is now finishing an MFA in Fiction at University of South Carolina. His work has appeared or is forthcoming from The Broadkill Review, Entropy, Queen Mob's Tea House, and elsewhere.