Thursday, April 6, 2017

REVIEW: BattleField by Peter Brook at the MCA Chicago

Battlefield is a production of Stunning Beauty and Simplicity.
30 years ago, I saw a 9 hour play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  It was Peter Brook's Mahabharata, a play in 3 parts that spanned an entire day, and in the play, spanned centuries and years as it told the Indian epic. It was a seminal moment for me, a young theatre student.

 Director Peter Brook was my hero, I'd read his books, and I saw him put his ideas he'd written in the Empty Space into practice. It was also one of my first forays into New York, my first foray to BAM

a 6 hour movie version of the 9 hour play is 
available via Amazon
It's 30 years later, and Peter Brook is still at it, weaving fantastical theatricality with extreme simplicity and extremely powerful acting.  And I'm still at it, too, being amazed by his work.

I found out yesterday that the new show Battlefield was here in Chicago, and the next day I changed my schedule so that I could see the show.

The new show Battlefield (by the original collaborators of the  9 hour producton- directed by Peter Brook and his collaborator Marie Helene Estienne, and written by Jean-Claude Carriére) is only 70 minutes long, and is a fractal of the epic 9 hour saga.  Despite the fact that it deals primarily with the last portion of the original show, the entire story is also somehow magically encapsulated in this smaller rendition.

In the original 9 hour production there were over 20 actors playing all of the roles, in this new play there are 4 actors and a drummer.  They are all wonderful.

To view photos of the original Mahabharata directed by Peter Brook, visit Wikipedia

The plot:  Battlefield is set after the epic war between the cousins Pandavas and Kauravas.  The Kauravas are 5 brothers, and their brothers, sons of the blind king Dritarashtra.  The Pandavas win, and the blind king Dritarashtra has lost all of his  sons, killed by their cousin and Pandava Yudishtra, who now must become king.  The blind king must accept this bitter defeat and embrace his nephew who has killed his sons.  The nephew feels the victory is hollow, especially after he learns that not only are his cousins dead by his hand, but his half-brother as well.  The play explores the bitterness of defeat and moving on, and the immeasurable costs of victory.


The cast (of four actors and a master drummer) are all phenomenal and play their parts with somberness and artistry.  The play itself, although essentially Indian in story, has deep allusions to the story of Oedipus, and later of Antigone.  Especially Anouilh's Antigone, who must struggle after the war with her deceased brother on the losing side, and not able to receive a proper burial, and Antigone has to risk all to give him the burial he deserves.

As I mention all of the actors are amazing, and their props are simple- a long cloth, a couple of sticks.  Of particular note is the work of drummer Toshi Tsuchitori, who improvises his drumming throughout the performance, and has an ending solo that poignantly winds down the play into a tableau that left the audience breathless.

Also of note, during this story of war and battlegrounds and its aftermath, my watch kept on vibrating.  I looked down mid-show to discover that Donald Trump had dropped 59 missiles on Syria during the play.  This put this story into a contemporary perspective.  Where will the aftermath end?  Whose hundred sons will lay strewn across the battlefield?  And to what end?

I highly recommend seeing this play.  It runs two more nights in Chicago (through April 8) and then has at least two more American cities.  Click the name of the venue to find out more and get tickets.

April 5-8, 2017 Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
April 13 – 23, 2017: Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
May 26 – June 21, 2017: American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco

There have been a number of great reviews of the show:


And here's a video from Japan (I think) of a promo of the production

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