The Grand Inquisitor
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 26, 2008
The author of The Grand Inquisitor is Fyodor Dostoyevsky; the text of this play, adapted by Marie-Hélène Estienne and just 9-1/2 typed pages in length, is a faithful rendering of a parable from The Brothers Karamazov.
I was excited to see The Grand Inquisitor because it marks a rare appearance on the New York stage for its director, Peter Brook. What, I asked myself, will this theatre legend reveal to his audience in this well-known text?
The answer is: Nothing. Taking minimalism to a new extreme, The Grand Inquisitor is the most pointless work of theatre I've ever seen, by which I mean that I couldn't make out a point to it at all. Whatever meaning one will find in this story of a cardinal who confronts Jesus Christ when the latter makes an unscheduled and un-looked-for appearance in the middle of an Inquisition, it will come only from the potent ideas laid out by Dostoyevsky—and these would almost certainly be more clearly understood if one could read them for oneself, rather than try to follow them as they're recited by Bruce Myers, the narrator of the play.
Jake M. Smith, the other actor, plays Jesus, with his back to us, silent. There's no set to speak of, and only a few lighting cues.
What I kept waiting for was for something theatrical to happen; for some reason for this event to be happening in a theatre. Why, I kept asking myself, have Brook and New York Theatre Workshop and Theatre for a New Audience invited us here to watch these actors, to hear such complex theology and philosophy? What do we gain from this experience that we would not find if we simply read the parable on our own?
Alas, I never found an answer to these questions during the 50-odd minutes of The Grand Inquisitor.
Let me know if you do.