By Patrick Hurley
Legendary director Peter Brook returns to his legendary roots with Battlefield, playing now at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Based on his own adaptation of the Mahabharata, a piece he co-adapted three decades ago with Marie-Hélène Estienne, this seventy-minute piece is a triumph of minimalist theatre.
Four actors and a musician are on stage for most of the piece, and it moves episodically much the way Epic theatre does, but is made up of the simplest ingredients. It doesn’t rely on any technical elements that seem to dominate so much of the contemporary theater scene, but rather stays true to its theatrical roots, and its almost radical to see something with no fancy lighting or projections, and no elaborate costumes.
Based on The Mahabharata, the play deals with the cataclysmic effects of war, and its aftermath. Yudhishthira, the king of the Pandavas, is faced with the repercussions of war, and millions of his people are lying dead on a battlefield, which makes his victory feel very much like a defeat.
With the aid of his mother, Kunti, and the blind king, Dhritarashtra, who lost 100 sons on the opposing side, Yudhishthira tries to reason out how such a tragedy could have happened and see what lessons can be learned. And so a series of parables are presented to him to illustrate the very nature of life and existence in an unjust world. Two of the stories that stand out are one in which two bamboo sticks are used to symbolize two scales on which a king weighs himself against a pigeon, and when the pigeon proves to be of more weight, the king slowly sheds all of his skin in the attempts to be victorious. And a story about a worm trying to cross a very crowded road is cleverly told with the aid of colored scarves and as awfully pessimistic as it is, it is surprisingly humorous.
This play, like the material it’s based on, asks large questions about the nature of existence, and the need for meaning that all creatures seem to be in deep pursuit of. It’s beautifully staged in its simplicity, and plays out with enough heightened theatricality to be a wonderfully unique experience. There are parallels that will undoubtedly be drawn to our contemporary political anxieties, where these larger questions of life must be asked, but this piece isn’t interested in those comparisons, necessarily, it’s busy with itself as a work of art and not a political one, and so it stays true to the universality and timelessness that these tales reside within.
The cast is superb, all four of the actors inhabit the depth and weight of the piece, with Toshi Tsuchitori providing the wonderful music accompaniment, which is a Japanese drum used to punctuate moments, as well as add rhythmic beats to give the story a sort of heartbeat. This piece is very much alive as a singular experience of these artists visions. One that only lives in the room for those of us fortunate enough to share in it with them. Peter Brook is still tremendously capable of beautiful artistic expression, and with such a short run, you must get tickets now, because, like life itself, it will be gone before you know it.
Written by Jean-Claude Carrière
Adapted and Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hèléne Estienne
Bram Goldsmith Theater
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210
May 24 – 28, 2017
Performance Schedule: Wed – Fri at 8pm; Sat at 2pm & 8pm; Sun at 2pm
Single tickets: $35 – $85 (prices subject to change)
Online – TheWallis.org
By Phone – 310.746.4000
Box Office – Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Service 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA, 90210