CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS by John Heilpern

CONFERENCE OF THE BIRDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1972, theater maverick Peter Brook climbed into a Land Rover and led an international band of actors and assorted helpers (including composer Elizabeth Swados and journalist Heilpern) through West Africa--developing mime-and-music theater pieces along the way, performing on a piece of carpet in marketplaces from Algeria to Dahomey. Why? To find, in non-industrialized societies, a friendly milieu for Brook's famous ""empty space"": theater reduced to its elemental, mythic, Zen-ish basics. This ""journey in search of the miraculous"" was less than a triumph, as Heilpern candidly reveals in his slightly precious but refreshingly double-edged account. The natives were rarely bowled over by The Shoe Show, The Bread Show, The Walking Show (""This consisted of actors walking"")--scenarios by Heilpern and Brook fleshed out with improvisations and Swados' stick-and-rattle music. In fact, the most exciting theater was prodded by the Africans, whose own genuinely simple/sophisticated performances showed up Brook's hard-working ""Theatre of NaïvetÉ."" And matters were not aided by interpersonal tensions, bad food, malaria, and the endless weeks of roughing-it. Still, Heilpern's very personal chronicle is no hatchet job: while able to wax ironic about the rampant pretentiousness, he does project the esprit de corps and moments of genuine inspiration that occasionally redeemed this folly (""You mean to say you've come all the way to do this?"" exclaimed a German passer-by upon seeing The Shoe Show). Less than earth-shattering raw material--but a taut, rarely gushy, slickly textured piece of reportage.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1978
Publisher: Bobbs-Merrill