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M. Proust

DN: When did you first encounter the writing of Marcel Proust? MZ: I first started reading Proust when I was 18, because my mother had read Remembrance of Things Past the summer of her 18th year. So I decided that that was the time for me. However, she finished it that summer, and I finished it four years later. DN: As a graduate student at Northwestern you developed a performance piece based on the writings of Celeste Albaret and Marcel Proust – is that what we’ll be seeing in this production of M. Proust? MZ: It’s much changed and much expanded, but it’s based on that. In the Northwestern University Department of Performance Studies, we had to do a Masters Recital. Mine was the prototype of this performance. In other words, I performed it. And it was much shorter and really much more the text of Proust, and although it was framed by Celeste Albaret, there was much less of her in it. She was the central speaker just like in M. Proust, but it was much less of her. DN: What was Celeste Albaret’s relationship to Proust? MZ: Well, she was his housekeeper for the last 8 – 10 years of his life. She was the only one who lived with him then. She basically cooked for him, answered the door for him, and took care of him – not really physically, but in terms of his eating and cleaning the rooms. You know, the housekeeper… but much more than that. She became a very surprising confidante to him and someone that he became very close to and very dependent on. So the whole play of M. Proust is based around the fact that when Proust would come in from his adventures outside, he began narrating them to her. I feel he was sort of rehearsing them out loud before he wrote. In a way, she was his first witness and audience of that book. Yet the irony in the play is that although she felt she was very intimate with him, there were clearly things that he kept private from her. DN: So this About Face Theatre production, presented through Steppenwolf’s Visiting Company Initiative, will be directed by Eric Rosen, whom you met at Northwestern. MZ: Yes! I think the first class he was in with Kyle Hall was my performance art class. And that’s how Kyle and he met and conceived the idea of co-founding About Face Theatre. But then he also took my Proust course, and he was the original producer of The Proust House – About Face and Northwestern. That was all Eric’s doing. I sort of idly said at a party one night – I have the class over at the end of the course for dinner – and I said, I have this idea that I want to do parts of the novel in some warehouse environment, or something like that. And he immediately set about making that happen. And I feel M. Proust is a kind of complement to that piece. DN: And there was a second production of the piece called Eleven Rooms of Proust? MZ: Yes, there was the original school one, which was part of a class and also part professional with About Face. And then there was a later one at least two years later with Lookingglass, About Face, and I even think the Goodman put a little money into that – because it’s a hard-to-finance thing. It’s not profitable when you have a cast of twenty-seven and audiences of thirty. DN: I saw that production, and I thought it was arrestingly beautiful and astounding. I was deeply moved by it. MZ: It reigned as a favorite of mine, actually. I feel it really was unique in every way. We always hope to do The Proust House again sometime, but it’s so dependent on a space. Spaces like that are very hard to find. DN: It seems there’s a real co-mingling of you and Eric and Kyle and Northwestern and About Face and Proust and it seems that it is ongoing. MZ: It is ongoing. And this is a part of it. My own engagement with that particular writer will last my whole life, I’m sure. About Face Theatre presents M. Proust in the Upstairs Theatre, June 9 – July 9, 2006 as part of the Steppenwolf Visiting Company Initiative.