Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dying On Stage


He was billed as The Incomparable Giacomo and performed three shows nightly and two Saturday matinee appearances each week. He delighted, astounded and regaled audiences with feats of gymnastic acumen, pantomime and an assortment of actions comedic and whimsical that never failed to enrapture even the most jaded connoisseur of live theatrical entertainment. He was a man of legendary fame and unprecedented popularity and, unbeknownst to all, arguably the single most truly unhappy individual on the planet. 

His name was not, of course, Giacomo. He was born Jakab Kazimir Benedek in a small town relegated to nonexistence by the merciless Treaty of Trianon. On the cusp of completing a Fine Arts degree in Budapest, he was swept away onto the bigger stage of world politics as a conscript of the Austro-Hungarian war machine.

Three years later found him wounded and expatriated in a hospital near Przemysl. Though the surgeons saved his life, he was left with a cleft palate, ensuring any hopes of a career as an actor were gone. When the unit was recalled to England, the hapless young man was granted leave to travel with them.

Bereft of options and bankrupt of hope, he answered a newspaper advertisement for stage help at a seedy theater in Dalston. By happenstance, a regular performer took ill one night and just that incongruously began the vaudeville stage career of the man who, in the fullness of time, came to be known as The Incomparable Giacomo.

What none knew, what Jakab would never express was how much the stage took for all it gave. A comfortable loft, a motor car, tailored suits and gourmet meals could never restore his dignity to him. Capering and cavorting about like some demented jackass for the amusement of the crowds, a little bit more of his soul died with each succeeding performance.

It is a very dangerous thing when the soul of a man dies for, though it is not always so, very often the body does not linger far behind. On the night of October 3, 1924 when he failed to appear for a show, the stage manager went to his lodgings.

Toscanini’s Pagliacci was playing on the victrola and The Incomparable Giacomo, in full costume and harlequin makeup was found, quite dead, floating in the bath. Perhaps saddest of all was he left no note, knowing no words to express the pain he felt. 



This story was written for the Behind the Curtain flash fiction contest hosted by the incomparable Anna Meade.  You may follow the click button below to view the contest entries. 

25 comments:

  1. The incomparable Giacomo left no words behind. Very evocative and great use of the image!

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  2. Wow, what a powerful punch in that twist at the end.

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  3. Powerful stuff, loved the end, great twist.

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  4. The characterization in this piece is excellent! Really enjoyed it.

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  5. I loved the use of language, the multi-syllabic words really helped to create a flamboyant grandiose feel to his character which made it sadder at the end.

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  6. So many facts add such reality to his character, it's like reading a nonfiction story, albeit a very sad one. Nicely written.

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  7. I like the classic touch of the perfect details that anchor it in reality, plus the almost matter of fact voice - sounds almost like a newsreel. The contrast between the tragedy and the matter of fact-ness is truly poignant.

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  8. I loved this, a great character p.ortrait

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  9. So sad. A life story in less than 400 words. That's impressive. :) I agree with Meg, the voice offers a distance that seems to make it even more sad. No one ever really knew him, not even the narrator.

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  10. I caught the irony of the name straight off - the Incomparable Giacamo! - but from there the parallel quickly diverged into something far more tragic. Great use of history, irony, and the crippling trajectory of losing one's dignity. Well done, m'friend!!

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  11. Your language choices are pitch perfect here, Jeffrey, and really add to the atmosphere and tenor of the piece. So well done!!

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  12. This was a portrait of a man, writ large.
    Impressive.

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  13. Great use of language, terribly bitter, but leaves quite the aftertaste.

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  14. so sad, other comments have used all the words and there are none left!

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  15. Wonderful story! Love the image you chose, too : )

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  16. It's almost a summary of the character yet it works! You had me hooked and the ending was so bittersweet. I'll have a hard time forgetting The Incomparable Giacomo, thanks to your imagery.

    Jessica
    Visions of Other Worlds

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  17. It's like I was reading a conversational history/biography (and I love those so very much) and you drew Giacomo very vividly in my mind and his pain was so very real. Wonderful read.

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  18. Such sadness and incurable pain "It is a very dangerous thing when the soul of a man dies for, though it is not always so, very often the body does not linger far behind" was such a wonderful line! Great image too.

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  19. This is a fantastic character portrait. I imagine you must have some amazing characterisations in your longer works too. I wanted this to be longer. Damned flash... wonderful as it is.

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  20. Great characterization. You really captured his life (and death) in such a short piece.

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  21. This is a wonderful, hauntingly sad and painful piece. Excellent!

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