The Empty Space (Brook)

As a long-time theatre fan, I have heard Peter Brook referenced innumerable times as one of the faces on the theatrical Mt. Rushmore. I just checked; he’s still alive. So when I saw this book, I thought I might gain some insight what makes him so revered. For much of it, though, he comes off as a grumpy old man in love with Shakespeare and little else. The book sparks whenever he talks about his specific approaches to directing. To his credit, he is aware of the contradictions in what he’s saying. His preference for the ‘rough’ style of theatre comes off as a bit romanticized and superficial. The claim that somehow better theatre is being done in bars than in theatres because it is in bars (and all that that involves) seems just silly to me.

The center of Brook’s theatrical universe is Brecht, and this book is the first time I’ve even begun to understand the notion of “alienation.” I’m more inclined to dig into one of Brook’s other favored playwrights, Samuel Beckett. I’ve always liked his work more than Brecht’s.

I had trouble with Brook’s obsession with Shakespeare, whom I love. Older, though, is not, by definition, better; it’s just older. I, for one, could do without ever seeing another Noel Coward play, even if Kevin Kline is in it.

While I agree with Brook’s desire that the design process evolve along with the directing process, I suspect it’s a privilege he earned, and not one that many theatres can afford.

I enjoyed being inside Brook’s head for an intense 140 pages. And I do have my own opinions about what makes good theatre. I think it will always survive, though I do think the desire to cultivate a new and diverse audience is, right now, at odds with the increasing ticket prices. I think there can be good theatre both in bars for five bucks and on Broadway for five hundred. I just want to get more people into both spaces.

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