January 13, 2019


Listening to the Bible With David Suchet  (Michael De Sapio, 1/13/19, Imaginative Conservative)

Mr. Suchet's delivery combines force and gentleness--the phrase "power in reserve" comes to mind. He does not give us the nicey-nice Jesus of popular lore; there is an uncompromising sternness and irony in His speeches. When He denounces the hypocrisy of the scribes, the words sting. Never do you sense that Mr. Suchet is simply doing a celebrity gig, or offering the Bible as a literary monument; he truly believes in the words. There is in his reading a humility and directness likely belonging to Mr. Suchet himself.

I bet that the power of David Suchet's Gospel reading derives, in part, from Hercule Poirot. Mr. Suchet has spoken in interviews about the appeal of the Belgian sleuth--of how he is a "great moral compass" who "when you're with him, you feel everything's all right in the world." As a foreigner in England, Poirot is able to mix with all strata of society; he particularly gets along well with and has compassion for the servant class. He's an excellent listener, able to see into the workings of a person's psychology. In the denouement, when Poirot reveals the identity of the culprit, he becomes the instrument of divine justice, bringing what is hidden to light.

A good rehearsal, I should think, for embodying the Son of God and the poets and prophets of the Old Testament. Despite all his roles on stage, film, and television, Mr. Suchet's Bible will stand as one of his signature accomplishments. 

I would say that David Suchet is, in his low-key way, an evangelist--a rare thing in today's world and especially in the acting profession. Drama and the faith are not often yoked together, but this is a mistake and listening to Mr. Suchet's work reminds us of the relationship.

An actor--particularly a fine classical actor like Mr. Suchet--studies the context behind the words he speaks and attempts to enter into the spirit of the times when they were written. Not too dissimilar, when you think about it, from how a thoughtful person should approach the text of the Bible. Such a reader uses rational analysis to bring out proper emphasis, to pace and punctuate, to bring linguistic intelligence and psychological insight, to create audible rhetoric that leaps from the page. To read Jesus' parables with these principles in mind is not unlike reciting a soliloquy of Shakespeare.

The experience of audible reading used to be an everyday part of our culture. In the nineteenth century American homes were furnished with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare, and both were often read aloud by the hearth. Elocution was a widely taught art, and crowds willingly stood to hear lengthy speeches and debates. A stock of popular literature, passed on by voice, created a common literacy. Even more, it helped connect people to the physicality of words, making the text more than merely intellectual.

Nowadays we hear the Bible read in installments at our weekly liturgies (not usually by David Suchet, alas), but sustained reading aloud is rare. Most of our reading is silent and abstract. Yet reading out loud is irreplaceable. It is a social act, incarnating the words and message in a personal way. In hearing the Bible read, the Word takes flesh before us.

Posted by at January 13, 2019 7:48 AM