I first met Paul Schmidt in 1992. He was going to translate Brecht's St. Joan of the Stockyards, which I would then direct at Yale Rep. His reputation was formidable, and I went with trepidation to his apartment, standing in front of his door for a minute before summoning the courage to ring the bell. Then the door opened and this gentleman greeted me, thin and elegant, who drew me inside and said, "I've been so looking forward to working with you."
Whenever I visited Paul after that, a feeling of quiet well-being would sweep over me. He had a way of transforming the most ordinary meetings into special occasions. He made one feel that life deserved our attention to detail, to beauty, and to pleasure. His place was exquisite, modeled, as he happily explained, on the best staterooms of the Normandie. Nothing fussy or dandyish, but endearingly theatrical, a chamber theater where he could play his role: the urbane and emphatically American scholar-actor-poet.
The last production we did together was Phèdre at ART. It was a struggle for Paul to come to rehearsal. He was in pain, walking slowly, unable to get a good night's sleep. Day after day, Paul would sit, quietly tapping out the meter with his long fingers. Then suddenly: "Hang on. That's not right. Just give me a second." And we'd stop and his fingers would tap, tap, tap, and he'd mutter the speech out loud and scribble. Then he'd say, "How's this?" And then proceed to perform four or five new verse lines of the most graceful, actable American English ever visited upon the "impossible, impeccable" French of Jean Racine.
Paul was that rare being: the exemplary artist whose words and deeds were openhearted expressions of his love for theater, people, and life itself. Paul taught me so much about how to be an artist and about how to live. I know I speak for many in saying that I loved him very much and will miss him more than words can say.
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