Body plights, genre privileges: The actress’ stage fright in Miroslav Krleža’s short story Behind the Mask
This contribution develops its argument at the crossroads of three interests: the first one concerns a focus on the representation of the female body, thereby placing the discussion within the methodological framework of gender studies and feminist criticism; the second one, however, reflects upon the phenomenon of acting, and therefore approaches the female body as the sign of the intertwining of literature and visual arts, in this case theatre; finally, the crucial interest of the text is “the perspective of the body as a possible literary strategy,” the strategy of the narrative voice, which — in contrast to the theatrical exposure of the body and the inevitable “objectivity” of character’s pronouncements — provides a possibility to enter the actor’s experience from a subjective perspective, the one offered through the lenses of the actress’ confession, allowing it to overflow the entire world of the text. The state of stage fright which is reconstructed by the narrator of the short story Behind the Mask evokes those aspects of the female acting body that neither figure in the rich heritage of prose thematizations of female acting practice, nor are represented as something submitted to the external, social and specifically male evaluation: suffering, ageing, death, shame and fear. In the short story, these aspects of the body’s destiny are presented as both the cause and effect of an internally divided consciousness, split by its multiple tasks of representing a fictional character, of controlling the body in its “technically” rehearsed motions, and of handling deeply ingrained, “private” symptoms such as regression, that is, a feeling of infantile impotence, while simultaneously registering all the painfully sensed aggression of the outside world — the backstage. Since Behind the Mask is only a part of a larger cycle entitled Honorouble Glembays, which consists of eleven short proses and a trilogy connected to each other through characters that dwell in their possible worlds, it is interesting to note that at the centre of this short story is not one of the members of the Glembay family, but an actress confiding to her female friends in the salon owned by Laura Lenbach, member of the family and protagonist of the second part of the trilogy. This makes us wonder whether the links between the short story and the play are in fact metaleptic in nature, since we are led to believe that the actress is confiding about her stage fright to the very character she was charged with embodying.