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Los Angeles Festival : Plans Told For Staging Of 'Mahabharata' Epic

September 01, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE, | Times Theater Writer

It would have been too much to expect for the Los Angeles press corps to fill up Raleigh Studios' spacious sound stage 12 Monday morning, but the reporters who showed up for "The Mahabharata" director Peter Brook's press conference--the first of the Los Angeles Festival--were entirely too few.

Seated on the spacious red clay expanse that serves as set for Brook's nine-hour staging of the epic Indian poem, were festival director Robert J. Fitzpatrick and some of Brook's closest associates, including writer Jean-Claude Carriere, set and costume designer Chloe Obolensky, actor and fight choreographer Alain Maratrat, musician Kim Menzer and actors Mavuso Mavuso and Tapa Sudana.

"Each person has a very strict responsibility, but in fact all the people here overlap," Brook said.

Carriere recalled how he and Brook first came across "The Mahabharata" in 1976, enthralled by scholar Philippe Lavastine's retelling of its tales (an allegory of the family of man), and how he and Brook, steeped in its wonders, shook hands on a Paris street corner late one night, vowing to do it.

"This man told stories in such a warm, beautiful way that we were like two children," Carriere said. "Peter said to me 'Jean-Claude, we will do it when it is ready--and it will be as long as it needs to be.' "

Brook, Obolensky and Carriere placed great emphasis on the development of the project (they all made frequent trips to India during the '70s and early '80s) and their determination to produce a "Mahabharata" that would draw its inspiration from India but would not be pseudo-Indian.

"I had no fixed or preconceived idea of how this piece should look," said Obolensky. "We relied instead on the basic elements of earth, fire and water," she said, adding that she sought the right textiles deep into the foothills of the Himalayas.

"The aim was to suggest a story about India without doing it the way the Indians would do it," Brook echoed. He emphasized the many philosophical aspects of "The Mahabharata" as a story with a strong universal and contemporary resonance.

"This work contains all of human wisdom," he said. "It asserts its knowledge. It's about war. It tells how this family of human beings turns itself into a family of enemies.

"Their war becomes a war of extermination . . . there are sacred weapons that soar through the air and have the power to annihilate the world. It captures, in the same breath, mankind at its best and at its worst, its finest, its noblest, its most mysterious and its most destructive. That's why we felt immediately that it was important."

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