Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Balancing Act

THREADS OF TIME: Recollections.\o7 By Peter Brook (Counterpoint: 288 pp., $25)\f7 ; THE INVISIBLE ACTOR.\o7 By Yoshi Oida and Lorna Marshall\f7 .\o7 Foreword by Peter Brook (Routledge: 126 pp., $17.95 paper)\f7

June 14, 1998|IRENE OPPENHEIM | Irene Oppenheim is an adjunct professor of humanities at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and the artistic director of the Firehouse Theater Company

There are few who would not rank the English director Peter Brook among the most influential theater makers of the last four decades. Brook's theatrical manifestoes have left their mark on a generation of drama students, while his productions continue to challenge our conception of theater as a mirror of reality. Brook creates his own realities. It's a quest that persists in changing directions, even as Brook, who when he first emerged into prominence seemed a cultural revolutionary, has, in ways disappointing to some, reinvented himself as a guru of minutiae.

A high point in my own Brook saga came in the early 1970s, when I stood in a narrow Paris alley gazing at a street-level doorway. I don't remember any identifying signs on either the door or the adjacent bell but, having carefully sought the place out, I knew, or felt I knew, that somewhere in the building in front of me Brook had established his International Centre of Theatre Research. There, perhaps at that moment, he might be guiding his handful of chosen acolytes through explorations which would at the very least make theater explosively relevant or at the very most--it was a dreamy time--save the world. I didn't knock or make any other effort to actually witness this process. I simply wanted to pay homage to someone who had become, to me and many others, a cultural icon.

For Brook, the 1960s and early '70s were astonishingly productive. In slightly more than a decade, his directorial accomplishments included the film "Lord of the Flies" (1963), the stage premiere of "Marat/Sade" (1964), the collectively produced anti-Vietnam War play "US" (1966), the filming of "Marat/Sade" (1967), the staging of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1970) and the film "King Lear" (1971). In the mid-1960s, Brook, along with the American Charles Marowitz, began the Antonin Artaud-inspired Theatre of Cruelty, a brief but seminal experimental project under the aegis of the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1968, Brook published his polemic "The Empty Space." With its passionate characterizations of theater as "Deadly," "Holy," "Rough" and "Immediate," it was a book held near the heart of anyone who believed the arts in general and theater in particular could reclaim oracular power and reveal primal truths.

While most believers tried to resuscitate theatrical primacy in their neighborhood lofts and store-fronts, Brook himself took the quest more literally. In 1972, Brook and 11 actors, including 26-year-old Helen Mirren, set out for Africa. There, he said, he would work toward the creation of a cross-cultural "universal language." Prior to this trip, Brook had spent his previous years in Paris experimenting with sound, gesture and wordless improvisations in an attempt to transcend national and social boundaries. Now, Brook wanted to test his discoveries before African audiences, audiences he contended had not been tainted by Western commercialism.

To many Brook observers, this odyssey seemed both naive and mystifying. Did African audiences, even rural African audiences, possess the "untutored" qualities Brook claimed to be seeking? And further, why would Brook, a theatrical magician who in his acrobat-inspired "A Midsummer Night's Dream" created dazzling intricate conjunctions of visual wizardry and language, want to diminish those elements?

In his book "The Shifting Point: Theater, Film, Opera 1946-1987," Brook defended his African adventure as springing from purely theatrical motives. The process "of really starting from zero" was, he stated, of extraordinary value. Certainly, the African experience would strongly influence subsequent Brook productions; these would include his interpretations of the Persian tale "Conference of the Birds" and the "Mahabharata," an internationally cast nine-hour epic Brook brought to the Los Angeles Arts Festival in 1987. But while enriching our dramatic vocabulary may have been high on Brook's African itinerary, his new book "Threads of Time" indicates that he may have had another motive: to test some of the perceptual theories of G. I. Gurdjieff, a Russian-born mystic who settled in England and whose ideas attracted a number of artists including Frank Lloyd Wright, Katherine Mansfield, Georgia O'Keeffe and J.B. Priestley.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|