Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Peter Brook - Don't Confuse Beckett with Existensialism

Peter Brook, now 86, comes to the ArtsEmerson program this week with two productions: The Grand Inquisitor, which is a staging of a passage from Dostoyevsky's novel The Brothers Karamozov, and Fragments, a program of Samuel Beckett shorts.

In a pre-show piece in the Boston Globe, Brook explains how many have missed a crucial element of Beckett's work:

“They thought he was a sort of austere and rather forbidding, monk-like figure who looked at everything with a dark eye and saw nothing but human misery,’’ Brook said from Milan, where he was directing the “Magic Flute’’ that he will take to New York this summer. “And to find this man who loved women and good drink and good food and lived in Paris for choice, and was always every morning in a cafe, where he would be sitting enjoying himself with various friends, this man was not that.’’

Likewise the work, said Brook. He has been convinced for 50 years, ever since he saw the New York premiere of “Happy Days,’’ that there is “a shining thread running through’’ Beckett’s plays, even a capacity for joy. That it’s been largely overlooked, he said, is the fault of the existentialist movement.

“It was part of the human climate of the time,’’ explained the director, speaking from experience. In 1964, Brook directed the RSC’s Theatre of Cruelty season. “This was a time when in Europe there was a feeling that optimism was a bourgeois luxury that was too easy, and that the truth was something tougher and harder, and that the world’s bourgeoisie were refusing to look this in its face.’’


Mary ElizaBeth Peters said...

I don't find that Brook is saying that Beckett's exploration of experience of joy separates him from existensialism. I have never known the existential movement to be limited to negative emotions.

Art said...

No, you're right. He is more blaming is blaming later followers of existentialism, including himself by the way, of draining the work of its joy.

But also remember that though you can't separate Beckett from existentialism, you can't confuse him with it either.

George Hunka said...

I'd be interested to hear where to find that "shining thread" or "capacity for joy" in the following Beckett plays, in which they seem to elude me:

Not I
That Time
A Piece of Monologue
Rockaby (the climactic line "fuck life" being the shining thread of joy here, I suppose)
Ohio Impromptu
What Where

Or, for that matter, in the prose works:

How It Is (especially here)
Ill Seen Ill Said
Worstward Ho

If the "joy" is in the experience of a good production of these plays, then the "joy" inheres in any laudable theatrical experience and not in Beckett's work itself.

Art said...

I agree, George.

I found the quote very interesting, which is why I posted it.

I wasn't quite sure what Brook was getting at.

Tom Garvey just put up a review of these productions over at The Hub Review that suggests Brook us trying to find whimsy in Beckett. A tough sell, as Tom, (and you) point out.