The Valley of Astonishment
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The Valley of Astonishment. Theatre for a New Audience (see Off Broadway). Written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne. With Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni, Jared McNeill. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission.
The Valley of Astonishment: In brief
Theater guru Peter Brook (The Empty Space) and his longtime collaborator, Marie-Hélène Estienne, explore synesthesia and other neurological idiosyncrasies in a piece that played earlier this year in London and Paris. The cast includes Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni and Jared McNeill.
The Valley of Astonishment: Theater review by David Cote
In this hushed, cool, spare chamber piece with three actors and two musicians, Peter Brook continues the theatrical meditation on cognitive phenomena he began 20 years ago in The Man Who (based on case studies by Oliver Sacks). Among the mental quirks this time is synaesthesia, the condition in which senses overlap: a sound inspires a color in the mind’s eye or a word becomes indissolubly attached to an image. Or there’s Samy Costas (Hunter), who is a mnemonist. Read Samy a random series of words or numbers, and she’ll repeat it in perfect order.
The challenge in putting mental activity onstage is that we can’t see it—only its effects on bodies or speech patterns. Brook wisely avoids showy performances or illustrative stage effects: The acting is precise, patient and measured. Hunter, always fascinating in her coiled, androgynous spikiness, assumes the natural center. Brook’s mystical-scientific dramaturgy may not provoke astonishment but, rather, a pleasant emptying of dramatic preconceptions.—Theater review by David Cote
THE BOTTOM LINE Brook continues his mindful journey.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote