Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Grand Inquisitor


Adapted from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov by Marie-Helene Estienne. Dir. Peter Brook. New York Theatre Workshop. Through Nov. 30. (CLOSED)

Theatrical legend Peter Brook makes a rare appearance in New York as the director of Marie-Helene Estienne's adaptation of a famous chapter from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov. Several critics were admiring if not overjoyed, and most were cool, if not outright hostile (John Simon, of course), to the bare-bones production.

Talkin' Broadway A
(Matthew Murray) Peter Brook...has a knack for making an idea too small for a closet feel too big for a stage...Myers is as avuncular as he is devious...He's all but challenging you on that old saying that evil can flourish when good people do nothing...The Grand Inquisitor theorizes, however, that even such deeply rooted cancers can be removed with the proper treatment: All is not lost, even when those in charge would have you believe nothing else. That makes this show, so seemingly insubstantial, one of the most inspiring and uplifting offerings currently to be seen in New York.

NY Press A-
(Leonard Jacobs) The piece...leaves you simultaneously energized and paralyzed by fear, qualities that would normally work in opposition to each other. Seeing The Grand Inquisitor during the same week we elected president a man that some call a political messiah, this tale of a mandarin of the Spanish Inquisition interrogating, mocking and lambasting Jesus Christ isn’t just timely, it’s ironic...There are substantial segments of the play that are dry, talky and tangential.

Variety B+
(Marilyn Stasio) Technically, it doesn't get more basic than this. Slightly raised platform, couple of stools, clarifying light and two men in black—one of them entirely speechless. Even the adaptation, by Brook stalwart Marie-Helene Estienne, feels elemental, compared to the more elegant Constance Garnett version...Poised to land on the head of a pin, Brook's directorial focus becomes narrower and more pointed, until the jaw-dropping timeliness of Dostoyevsky's message becomes inescapable.

Back Stage B+
(David A. Rosenberg) Although this is more a rhetorical exercise than a play in the traditional sense of that word, the evening engages willing listeners as two men challenge each other, one speaking as he walks about on a platform surrounded by a brick-walled empty space, the other silent and still until almost the end...Longtime Brook collaborator Bruce Myers is the inquisitor, his sonorous voice now mocking, now demanding. His 55-minute monologue is hypnotic and provocative, requiring listeners to pay close attention.

TheaterMania B+
(David Finkle) It's not an easy 50 minutes to sit through—and many patrons may be wise to choose not to do so—but this monologue proves to be a rapt and challenging experience, thanks in large part to the work of Bruce Myers as a 16th-century cardinal confronting the returned Jesus...As befits the stark tale, Brook gives it a stark production.

Newsday B
(Linda Winer) Peter Brook is back with another of his astonishing yet simple, radical but accessible and riveting experiments in basic storytelling...Imagine Beckett's austerity but with showy acting and a linear narrative.

NY Times B-
(Ben Brantley) [Brook's] Grand Inquisitor is less an interpretation than a straightforward presentation of Dostoyevsky's immortal parable of worldly and spiritual power. Though it has a hypnotic central presence in Bruce Myers, who slides between the roles of narrator and Inquisitor, this 50-minute play offers little in the way of revelation. Instead it asks us only to listen again, closely, to a story many have heard before and, presumably, to consider its implications in the world that exists more than a century after it was written...As it is, Mr. Brook's production never transcends the status of an elegant intellectual puzzle play.

Time Out NY B-
(Helen Shaw) When directors dabble in radical reductionism, dozing theatergoers are a major risk. But The Grand Inquisitor, an ascetic retelling of the chapter from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, at least has the courage of its convictions. What else could explain the holy folly of leaving enlightenment up to an audience?...Brook experiments with the very smallest amount of production that a stage can sustain, and yet the rigor reads as many things—including arrogance...Sometimes even austerity is self-indulgent.

Curtain Up B-
(Jenny Sandman) The Grand Inquisitor is an excellent introduction to Brook's style, a rare chance to see his work since he doesn't direct new works very often. Bruce Myers' performance is flawless...But a 55-minute monologue, even one delivered by an impresario, can only be so active and exciting, especially since the role never really calls for any emotion or any sort of inner (or outer) revelation...It's very well-written and executed but ultimately it's a purely intellectual exercise.

Bloomberg News F
(John Simon) What is meat for a Russian novel is poison for the stage. A mere 48 minutes to perform, it's a season in hell to endure. Brook is, of course, one of the stalwarts of the avant- garde, but all that is avant here, and to be guarded against, is the pretense that this is theater, either in quality or quantity...Even Brook's staging fails to show the slightest inventiveness...Sitting through The Grand Inquisitor is admittedly preferable to being burned at the stake, but only just.

Talkin' Broadway A 13; NY Press A- 12; Variety B+ 11; Back Stage B+ 11; TheaterMania B+ 11; Newsday B 10; NY Times B- 9; Time Out B- 9; Curtain Up B- 9; Bloomberg News F 1; TOTAL: 96 / 10 = 9.6 (B)

No comments: