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Peter Brook: Theatre Legend (Part 2)

By Jason Rabin

In his native Britain, Brook is known as a sort of high priest of Avant-Garde Theatre, partly because so many of his projects have had an epic spiritual bent. His name is seldom printed in a British publication without a preceding qualifier like “esteemed,” “revered,” or “legendary.”

His first successes in the 50’s were often iconic British productions of Shakespeare, featuring the likes of Sir Lawrence Olivier. In the 60’s he began experimenting with the Theatre of Cruelty influence, most notably in his version of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade, in which stage actors portray inmates in a mental asylum putting on a play. He also became accomplished in the opera world, where he was known for pageantry. His production of Salome featured sets designed by Salvador Dali.

It was in 1970 that he moved to Paris and created his center at the abandoned Theatre Bouffes du Nord. There he created works drawing from various wisdom traditions with which he toured the world. He created a 9-hour stage adaptation of the Hindu epic, The Mahabharata, featuring masks and minimal props and sets. He explored Muslim folklore in the Conference of the Birds and Sufi beliefs in Torino Bokar and 11 and 12. As he traveled, his company engaged its varied audiences in dialogues about performance so that they always returned to Paris with new treasures, new toys to play with.

Brook returned frequently to Shakespeare in later years, but now with multicultural casts bringing fresh interpretations. As you will see with Fragments and The Grand Inquisitor, he has also taken on the Moderns, and their approach to the fundamental questions. The tour of these works, an exploration of Beckett aimed at busting the myth that this great Irish wit and experimenter was solely a poet of doom and a staging of the most dramatic episode of Dostoyevsky’s existentialist masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, marks the first time Brook’s work will be seen in Boston in forty years. You can bet it’s going to be big.

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