Four essays by Peter Brook, a well-known director, about the Deadly, Holy, Rough, and Immediate theater. Each of these essays is a little gem. Sometimes he rambles on, and sometimes he seems maybe too serious, but in the end, this book left me feeling more excited about the potential that theater has. When I read this the first time, two years ago, it made less of an impact on me, but rereading it brought much of what I have seen in the intervening time into sharper focus. Even when he is criticizing the state of Deadly modern theater, he points the way to new ideas and concepts. Or rather, they are old ideas and concepts that have been forgotten. I recommend this book to anyone who is getting bored with theater, or who feels like the whole endeavor is pointless.
On the other hand, it did make me feel like everything I have written so far is pretty much junk. I mean, it was good to write it, but I feel like I should be able to say something more in a play. Not that I must serve a Higher Purpose or something like that, but there are important things that I want to say, and I should really try to serve those in the writing. In that respect, the things that I have written before, and that I write now, are important to build technique, and i shouldn’t get so attached to them. The Empty Space is liberating in that respect as well.
I would label this as a must-read for just about anybody who cares about theater. In the book, he talks about the horrible state of contemporary theater (Deadly), the theater as ritual and elevating (Holy), in-your-face theater that uses all the dirt and grit of the brothel, barroom, and street (Rough), and his own approach to directing (Immediate). There are a lot of examples drawn from Brooks’ own experience that really help contextualize their comments. They aren’t thought experiments, they really happened. His exposition of Brecht and his importance is about the best explanation of “alienation” that I have read. His discussion of Shakespeare will make people who think the Bard passé sit up and take notice. The only drawback to the book is that the tone is a little too formal in its rhetoric, so sometimes pages have to be read and reread. Repetition, representation, assistance — that’s what it’s all about.