Review by Polly Wittenberg
Written by: by Amadou Hampate Ba, adapted by Marie-Helene Estienne
Directed by: Peter Brook
Cast: Habib Dembele, Rachid Djaï¿½dani, Djeneba Kone, Sotigui Kouyate, Tony Mpoudja, Bruce Myers, Abdou Ouologuem, Helene Patarot, Dorcy Rugamba and Pitcho Womba Konga.
Synopsis: Describes the life and teachings of a humble and extraordinary Sufi mystic. His story draws us deep into a traditional and animistic Africa, moulded by Islam, shaken by Colonialism and torn apart by internal struggles.
Polly Wittenberg's Review.
Peter Brook, whose latest ï¿½theatrical researchï¿½ is currently on view at the transformed LeFrak Gym at Barnard College, is from the left wing of great directors, always trying to expand the subjects and the techniques explored on the stage; always seeking new audiences.
In Tierno Bokar, drawn from the life of a Sufi Muslim known as ï¿½the Sage of Bandiagaraï¿½ who lived in Mali, all of Brookï¿½s obsessions are in evidence. Set in the era of colonialist rule in Africa, a seemingly minor religious dispute leads to great divisions among the natives and, after turning pragmatist in order to avoid violence, Bokar is ostracized by his own following and dies alone. Narrated by one of his disciples through an array of simply presented and disparate conversations shown in flashback, Bokarï¿½s story is essentially that of the impact on others of a benevolent religious guiding spirit, a subject which is very difficult to portray on stage.
Though the commitment of Brook and his varied, elegant cast members (who speak in French accompanied by English supertitles) to presenting big themes from unaccustomed points of view is clear, the payoff in terms of lessons taught (e.g. ï¿½There are three kinds of truthï¿½my truth, your truth and the truth.ï¿½) seems not to justify the effort.
Itï¿½s too bad, because Brookï¿½s big reputation and the relatively low ticket prices (loudly lauded elsewhere) attracted a young crowd not usually seen in more traditional venues downtown.
What the critics had to say.....
MARGO JEFFERSON of the NEW YORK TIMES says ï¿½I could have been turning the pages of a venerable book whose text and pictures were too faint to be clearly seen.ï¿½
GORDOn COX of NEWSDAY says "He's (Peter Brook) always been a proponent of paring down to essentials: He titled his renowned 1968 book about theater 'The Empty Space.' Here, however, he calmly peels away so much that there's little left."
PETER SANTILLI of ASSOCIATED PRESS says "Its constant rumination and periodically dormant plot will make it too dry for some palates"