BAM presents the U.S. premiere of Peter Brook's adaptation of the Sanskrit epic 'The Mahabharata,' about a King's struggle to rule in a post-civil war society. Part of BAM's 2016 Next Wave Festival. More…
Thirty years after his legendary sunset-to-sunrise production of 'The Mahabharata' consecrated the BAM Harvey stage, legendary director Peter Brook returns with 'Battlefield,' a distillation of the central story in the ancient Sanskrit poem. In the wake of an apocalyptic civil war, a remorseful King Yudishtira—his hands still bloodied from the carnage—desperately seeks some just way to rule over murderers and victims alike. Silk scarves become rivers and shrouds; four actors are reincarnated as worms and eagles, victims, and perpetrators; and a single instrumentalist scores the bleak peace of oblivion, giving haunting new life to this staggering Indian epic.
"An elegiac play of stark and uncommon beauty…Any sense that its scenes, with their homiletic wisdom, are ripe for parody is forestalled by the acting. It is a style of eloquent economy, which embraces wit as well as solemnity...In recent years, Mr. Brook has been moving toward a distillation of spectacle into simplicity. Still, there remains a sort of wondrous spectacle in 'Battlefield." Full Review
"It would be wonderful to report that the pain dramatized in 'Battlefield' is outdated. Unfortunately, the anguish over what we are asked to feel in this production leaps across the years. It also makes for a very special theater experience...'Battlefield' becomes consistently mesmerizing, enveloping the audience in a total experience with a flow of talk and movement of great smoothness...Yet another feather in the cap of the renowned Peter Brook, now 91 years old and still making his mark." Full Review
"Brooks’ signature empty space of an exquisitely lit, unadorned stage is the setting for diamond-sharp performances that are cadenced like a sutra chant...The precision and harmony of the five performers are exemplary and perfectly matched to the gravity and timelessness of the 'Mahabharata’s' themes...'Battlefield' may tell of a horrific conflict and chastise the vanity of mankind, but we emerge feeling as though we have glimpsed dharma." Full Review
"The questions raised by the story are eternal. All are stripped down to their plainest form and enacted with passion and nimbleness by the superb cast of four...The production’s deliberate limitation of expressive tricks created emotions so inverse-proportionally large that they could only be released in tears. I cried...Luckily we have Brook back among us to demonstrate once again that contemporary theater can and should be talking to 'a large mainstream audience,' not just to itself." Full Review
"Brook and his collaborator, Marie-Hélène Estienne, have distilled the show into a hushed, seventy-minute ritual of storytelling and theatre allegory–one that resonates profoundly in our own war-torn times...The miracle of Peter Brook’s storytelling lies in its exquisite economy and simplicity...Employing myth, ritual and symbol–the three essential classical ingredients of theatre–Brook and his collaborators tell a story for our times." Full Review
"Four actors inhabit the many characters who tell the tale and fables within stories. Each is remarkable, mutable, reverent and wonderful to regard...The language in this epic can be astonishingly beautiful...The play is a slow-marching mediation asking the audience to question their own mortality and the choices we have made as a modern society with a constantly war-torn world swirling at our well-fed feet." Full Review
"The minimalist production exudes a meditative mood and audience members might well draw parallels between the ancient text and our modern world. At its best, 'Battlefield' is elegantly played by a fine company, but the slow solemnity of the proceedings can be a bit taxing. Still, there's an appeal to the piece that comes from connecting contemporary views with two worlds; one of centuries ago and one of just a few decades past." Full Review
"Brook and Estienne clearly find profound, present meaning in this tale of Pyrrhic victory. But the didactic, story-time quality of the production dims the ancient source's radiance...Brook and Estienne preside over something graceful, all elements smiling meaningfully, the gurus delivering wisdom. Yet 'Battlefield' seems to want to impart lessons without really listening to their implications. I love Brook...But against such willful simplicity, even a worshipper at his altar must take up arms." Full Review
"There's a great amount of reflection, but precious little action in this sleepy adaptation of the legendary theatrical event...The actors all speak in a uniformly halting and deliberate tone, seemingly meant to emphasize the fact that the story they're telling is very important...With its mystical seriousness and fetishization of ancient eastern wisdom, there is something very deadly about 'Battlefield,' a show that seems to be riding on the reputation of glories past." Full Review
for a previous production "A seamless ensemble cast…The imagination on show here pushes beyond the space of the stage, and permeates the time left after the actors retreat…‘Battlefield’ captures the spirit and romance of this Indian saga, translating its otherworldly and spiritual elements to the stage without falling into the easy traps of cultural appropriation or cliché. This is an allusive and emotional play…The beauty and purity of this piece is evident in the tears it causes at something never quite articulated." Full Review
for a previous production "Judged purely as a piece of stagecraft, the work is breathtaking...The simplest means are used to tell the text’s unfolding stories…At a time when theatre is giddy with technology, you are struck by the way economical means are used to maximum effect…The result is a dazzling piece of theatre that makes us contemplate the endless cycle of human destruction but induces a sense of resignation rather than rousing us to action." Full Review
for a previous production "The luminous acting by the barefoot, multi-ethnic cast of four beautifully serves the production's beguiling mix of grave sorrow and mischievous levity, its shifting moods underscored by a virtuosic Japanese percussionist...The proceedings unfold with a limpid minimalism...The perspective has a strange, uplifting charm to the comfortably off. The wisdom of renunciation and resignation might not feel so appealing to a crowd of desperate Syrians." Full Review
for a previous production "Everything about this staging is distilled…It is delivered with remarkable grace and deceptive lightness of touch by the cast…There is a childlike mischief to this role-play that pulls against the serious and sometimes ponderous nature of the script. But it also drives to the heart of the matter: the role of storytelling in attempting to comprehend experience…The wearying recurrence of war, the inevitability of mortality: this low-key piece invites you simply to stop and reflect on them." Full Review
for a previous production "Parched of contextual information, and with the translation at times bordering on the monsoon side of heavy-weather, you could disengage, sneer even. Yet go with the flow, and you might–as I did–enter a different zone, getting a potent glimpse of another way of doing theatre, of looking at life, even at the end a fleeting intimation of some ‘cosmic’ otherness. Much of this is down to the luminous charm of the players…Something profound is felt on the pulse here; I cannot quite say what." Full Review
for a previous production "The paradox of Brook is that it takes great skill to do something so straightforward; so straightforward, in fact, that it can look simplistic…As ever with Brook, the actors' precision and purpose carries its own meaning…Brook does the bare minimum. His stagecraft allows him to speak plainly…’Battlefield’ invites personal reflection and it's on each of us to find wisdom and weight in stories that can seem childish and slight. It's an intensely theatrical experience—albeit a self-contained one." Full Review
for a previous production "The fluidity of the language and the vivid images the actors create are what drive this performance…The actors paint the rich world for us with warmth and mystery…Brook’s style is clear as ever and with the language of 'Battlefield' so beautifully enriched, we do get the sense of being transported…However, as the production has been cut out from the original epic we lose a sense of the overall arch of the story, and we are left with a sense of disconnection." Full Review
for a previous production "There's a distinct aesthetic harmony to the production that feels not only refreshing, but also allows for a mostly clear understanding of this important and timely production…At times I found it too relaxing and longed for a shift in pace…The staging is enchantingly simple, yet continually surprising…That said, Brook's formidable shadow hangs over the piece so firmly that you can't help wonder if audiences would respond the same way were his name not attached as a seal of approval." Full Review
for a previous production "All the actors move with an impressively controlled stillness of being, confident and smooth as if in the grip of a kind of perfection that you rarely see…Amid the stillness, there are some memorable moments...The message of acceptance and resignation is a bit hard to stomach. Are we really supposed to accept that the plight of Syrian refugees is just another example of the wheel of fortune and to relinquish any agony that we, or they, might feel?" Full Review
for a previous production "There is no denying that his quartet of actors have tremendous presence with nothing to get in their way…Yet the idea that the great truths are simple does not make all simple truths great and revering Brook should not blind one to the show’s shortcomings. The truths offered here as profundities, as food for thought, are familiar…But they fail to nourish because, in this show, these truths have nowhere to go: this is thin fare, exquisitely served – although, at times, simplicity is a fetish." Full Review
See it if You want a mesmerizing, breathtaking, borderline religious experience.
Don't see it if you need flashy staging, flashy costumes, and don't want to sit still and join in communion with the actors.
See it if you like having your imagination activated while being asked and guided through big questions
Don't see it if you think theater is a passive engagement or you just want entertainment
See it if for an exploration by a theatrical genius of conflict and its effects on humans. Brook is a rare bird and deserves his devoted audience.
Don't see it if you don't like any philosophy onstage, or want a lot of action or elaborate sets/costumes. This is a quiet but moving and gorgeous piece.
See it if you would like to sample in miniature a legendary production with astonishingly graceful acting and staging.
Don't see it if you believe an epic should have a big cast, a lengthy running time, and a large and hyperactive staging.
See it if You want a cultural experience, filled with deep storytelling.
Don't see it if you can't remember a bunch of names at once or have no interest in non-Western stories or story-telling traditions.
See it if You want to see the work of Peter Brook and have heard of his legendary Mahabharata, from which this play is taken. 5 actors, 1 drummer.
Don't see it if You like traditional drama--this is storytelling/folktale on a simple set, masterfully presented.
See it if you want to see a production by the legendary Peter Brook. While I enjoyed the first half, the second half kind of lost its focus.
Don't see it if you are easily bored by the occasional long, droning speech. This work is still so relevant to today–I'd give it a chance.
See it if You're Brook fan, never seen the original, like to explore huge moral issues via an Indian folktale with a few stunning stage images
Don't see it if You expect an action-packed look at aftermath of a cataclysmic war or extensive use of Indian theatre techniques. Don't like dry allegories
See it if I can't think of one single thing to cause you to want to see it. Fortunately, the torture is pretty short.
Don't see it if ...inept writing and sub-inept acting are not your cup of tea. Endless (and slow) stream of pseudo-philosophical mambo-jumbo.
See it if You will see anything by Peter brook, as I will, but won't be as disappointed as I was.
Don't see it if You are looking for a static, undramatic, play that takes Peter brooks 9 hour Mahabharata and unsucessfully tries to reduce it to one hour
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