Henri-Louis Lekain

Definition

Theater

  • (Henri-Louis Caïn; 1729 - 78) French actor generallyconsidered the greatest tragedian of his day. Although he was a smallman with unattractive features and a harsh voice, Lekain overcamethese disadvantages through genius, hard work, and charm. He was oftencompared to his friend David Garrick, each regarding theother as superior on stage. When Garrick visited Paris, the pair wouldgo to the Champs Elysées and pretend to be drunk to amuse thecrowd.

    In 1748 Lekain, then an amateur, was discovered by Voltaire,who took the 19-year-old into his own home, converting a room intoa theater for him. Lekain remained for six months, during which hetrained with an amateur company composed of Voltaire's friends andfamily. In 1750 Lekain appeared for the first time at the Comédie-Françaisein Voltaire's Brutus. By 1768 he was acknowledged as the besttragic actor in France.

    Lekain was the first man in the French theater to attempthistorical accuracy in costume and, with Voltaire's encouragement,adopted a more natural style of acting than that generally practicedat the time. However, his intensity as an actor often exhausted him,and he had to retire briefly in mid career because of ill health.He caught a chill after appearing as Vendôme in a revival ofVoltaire's Adélaïde du Guesclin and died just asthe author was making his triumphant return to Paris after a 28-yearexile. This was the first news Voltaire heard on his arrival; he toodied within months.

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