Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
A Favorite Memory of Don Braunagel
Back in the '80s, Don and I drove to L. A. to see Peter Brook's Mahabharata. Based on the longest poem ever written, the performance began at 11:00 a.m. and -- after several intermissions and a dinner break -- ended around 10 or 10:30 p.m. By the time it reached L.A., the production had become legendary. Brook had, long before then.
We entered a spruced up warehouse and sat in bleacher-like seats, maybe 500 in all. Two seats to our left: Peter Brook holding a stopwatch.
Each scene intertwined the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Even though the production had already toured around the world, Brook was timing the fire sequences.
He saw our open notebooks and poised ink pens. Critics. No big whup. To him.
"That who I think?" asked Don.
"Yep," I replied. "Wish I could thank him for Midsummer."
On the ride up I'd been regaling Don about Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which I saw in the '70s. No other production before, or since, has illuminated the possibilities of live theater like that one.
Midsummer was so magical, you half expected the actors to up and float away. Mahabharata was the opposite: simple, earthy, resonant. Over the hours the story grew inside you. Its rhythms rolled like waves.
When it was over, Brook remained seated. As we filed past, I decided it best to leave him be. I mean, what do you say to Peter Brook?
I did nod. And smiled. He did too.
Don could not hold back. He stopped in front of Brook, tilted forward. "Stay healthy," Don said with all his heart. "Keep going."