A Dream of Love

Thank God for Peter Brook. Of all the world's directors at this moment, he seems to be the most open, the least dogmatic and egoistic, the most responsive to things as they really are in the theater, the most fruitful problem solver, and incomparably the finest synthesiser of past and present. Brook is a man of life, of transcendentally practical necessity, breathing the air of reality.

One of the many things that Brook seems to understand with unique keenness is the absolute necessity of refreshing the the example of Shakespeare - the greatest imaginative synthesis of the West, an example of personal creative power that remains an atomic trigger lodged within our very consciousness. And no one understands better than Brook that this necessity is neither a matter of academic correctness, nor "making contemporary," but finding a way to prick into life the Shakespearean germ plasm, so that we apprehend it as a living form, a transcendent organism of art that shapes the purport of human consciousness. This Brook has done in his wonderful production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of the most beautiful Shakespearean productions of our lifetime, a thing to make you fall in love all over again with art and theater and Shakespeare and the liberating possibilities of ultimate sensibility.

Oberon and Puck


With its very first gestalt the production dissolves all one's gritty adhesions and sour wariness. The curtainless stage is filled with bright white light; swings hang from the flies; three bright white walls face us, surmounted by a catwalk on which musicians perch. A galvanic roll of drums; the stage is suddenly filled with actors in slacks, white capes, tie-dyed shirts. Briskly they deploy themselves in the central space, scramble up ladders set into the walls, arrange themselves along the catwalk. A swift, graceful pulsation of color, a crisp seizure of sound and the play has begun.

And instantly we see that the swings, the flat light, the abstract set, the subtly nondescript costumes, the percussive music link up into a supple, clean dramatic matrix, against which we are hearing the play's first lines delivered with the point, cadence and integrity of a heartbeat. Brook's actors are speaking us into the play with a beautifully controlled lagging rhythm that insinuates to us how important, how gravely lovely, how fraught with passionate formality this act of speaking Shakespeare is. It shapes the beauty, the downright sexiness, of this act that was once crucial to Western sensibility, and that here and now by the magic of intelligent good faith is going to be made crucial again.

From then on the production marshals in an astonishing variety of aural, visual, dramatic, poetic, philosophic shapes and rhythms to body forth in time and space the shimmering galaxy that is this marvelous play. In it Shakespeare created a profoundly complex poetic calculus of love, which is really the protagonist of the play. Shakespeare evokes love as the primal, protean human energy, and to that end he creates a world of dream within dream within dream in which his couples evoke all possibilities and misadventures of love. Love as possession, as contemplation, as absorption, as degradation, as exaltation, as madness, as sanity - all these and more come spinning like planets on a supernal surge of poetry.


And Brook catches it all in that bright white space, which we see is his way of making a tabula rasa out of our cluttered and encumbered minds, cleansing our imaginations to rreceive Shakespeare's sweet thunder. There are very many brilliant moments: as Titania makes her tremendous speech describing the cosmic dislocation that has arisen because of her spat with Oberon, she is gradually enfolded by him in a fiercely erotic embrace; Hermia's hilarious diatribe against Helena is delivered in midair from a swing where she flails and jounces in anger; Puck on towering stilts leads the young lovers astray in a forest evoked by slinky steel wires cascading from the catwalk on fishing rods; Lysander's speech on the rough course of true love is gently accompanied by a guitarist.

The upshot of all this is a production that obliterates all categories of traditional and avant-garde to reach the radical conservatism of sheer life. Under Brook the superb Royal Shakespeare Company delivers a beautiful ensemble performance. Richard Peaslee's music, the set and costumes by Sally Jacobs, Lloyd Burlingame's lighting - all are done with a brilliant honor that characterizes this masterful production by a director who may be the most valuable single figure in theater today.

Oberon and Titania

Jack Kroll

Newsweek, New York, USA, 1.2.71.


Playing Shakespeare/Dream