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Peter Brook, Marlowe and Shakespeare in Theatre for a New Audience's New Season

By Jon Sobel j.sobel@classicalite.com on Jul 31, 2014 04:16 PM EDT

Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Parts I and II and the U.S. premiere of Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne's The Valley of Astonishment comprise Theatre for a New Audience's second season at its new Brooklyn home, the Polonsky Shakespeare Center.

The season opens with a September 14 - October 5 run of the The Valley of Astonishment, described as an "astonishing tale of synesthesia, which explores real people who see the world in a radically different light…a kaleidoscopic journey into the mysteries and wonders of the human brain based on neurological research, true stories, and Farid Attar's epic mystical poem 'The Conference of the Birds.'" The Observer called the recently completed run at London's Old Vic "Intriguing, moving and unexpectedly funny."

If the name "Peter Brook" jumped out at you, the play is indeed co-conceived and directed by the legendary 89-year-old theater and film director known worldwide for his seven decades of staging increasingly austere, experimental and groundbreaking productions at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Paris's Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, and Broadway, where he won Best Director Tony Awards for Marat/Sade (1966) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1971).

The Valley of Astonishment, Brook's third work inspired loosely by the work of Oliver Sacks, is a three-hander whose main character is a woman (an "amalgam of case studies," as Brook described her to the BBC) with synesthesia--seeing numbers as people and sounds as colors, for example--and an extraordinary memory (a mnemonist). Synesthesia is "at moments a paradise," observed Brook, "and at other moments a real hell."

Austere isn't the word for the second production of Theatre for a New Audience's upcoming season. Nineteen actors play 60 roles in Christopher Marlowe's two epic dramas about the Mongol conqueror Tamburlaine compressed into one 3.5-hour play with one 30-minute intermission.

Michael Boyd directs, and John Douglas Thompson, who has previously appeared in both Macbeth and Othello for Theatre for a New Audience, takes on the title role. In 2009 Charles Isherwood wrote in The New York Times that that particular Othello was "among the most sensitively directed, eloquently designed and impeccably acted productions of a Shakespeare tragedy that the city has seen in years." Thompson's most recent Broadway appearance was in Rupert Holmes's theatrical adaptation of John Grisham's A Time to Kill last year.

Tamburlaine, Parts I and II runs November 1 to December 21, 2014.

In the spring the company earns its venue's name (the Polonsky Shakespeare Center) with the New York premiere of Fiasco Theater's concisely conceived production of Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Jessie Austrian and Ben Steinfeld. "A handful of actors transforms into outlaws, clowns, servants, and even a grumpy, ungrateful dog" in this staging of Shakespeare's early romantic comedy, which, while not considered one of the Bard's best, does feature some of the well-known elements that blossomed in his later works, including clowning, cross-dressing, star-crossed love, and flight and exile.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona runs April 24 – May 24, 2015.

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TagsShakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Peter Brook, Theatre for a New Audience, The Valley of Astonishment, Oliver Sacks, synesthesia, John Douglas Thompson

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