First loves: Notes on Peter Brook’s “The Grand Inquisitor”

Dear Y.,

…and so it was that on a rainy Boston evening, we skipped together to the Paramount Theater, battling the puddles and the light snow, to see Peter Brook’s “The Grand Inquisitor.” We were full with food and wine and coffee, but most of all full of that sense of excited wonder which we are (fortunately) still capable of, after all the poundings and bruisings of life, after all the long  periods of silence and the ensuing animation of words, after all that has been lost to us.

And so it was that as the one-hour play began to cast its spell on us, we realized, again, that in the fullness of time, it is always to our first and early loves that we return.  We may change, our ideas may be revised, abandoned or recast in new ways; we may become wiser or more child-like, but our first loves ambush us, sneak up on us, when we least expect them to–as the evening did for us, and as we admitted to each other while we walked under the snow to South Station, you to take your bus to NYC and I to take the Red Line home.

And contrary to our habit of talking and laughing our heads off when we meet like this for a day here, a day there, we said just enough about the production we had just seen, just enough, but each word measured, precise–in the spirit of Peter Brook himself and his ideas of theater.

Brook's Mahabharata. Photo:

And after our kisses and hugs, and as I was heading home on the subway, I thought again of our first love, when we were young and full of promise but also a lot of self-involvement.  It was in Beirut of the 1960s, at BCW, you reading Sartre’s plays and I Harold Pinter’s, in that basement in Nicol Hall, when you staged Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and I was the stage-something-or-the-other, or just a hanger-on.  The long nights of rehearsal, the poring over each word, the unending problems with lighting and sound. All of it.  And after you left Beirut that June under circumstances which defy speech, which return to me from time to time with ferocious clarity, the following year I produced Albee’s The Zoo Story and the second semester Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.I thought about all this and what ensued for me–the theatre criticism, the infatuation with Grotowski and finally, in graduate school, the turn to dramaturgical sociology–and then the slow abandonment of that first love.

And here we were today, after all these years, after our initial work in the theater and then our drifting away from it, here we were today, again, in the presence of a stage, an actor, and a space. We had returned, and, as Neruda says, he who returns has never left. Here we were again, with our first love, but older, the decades having neither paled nor distorted the allure of it all.  Here we were in the presence of great theater: an actor, a stage, and an audience.

Bruce Myers in The Grand Inquisitor.

It is the ancients that come back when we are witness to such an experience as tonight’s, the ancients who knew of the power, the magic, the deep subversiveness of the theatre. And this Peter Brook, he no doubt belongs with the ancients, his theater bare-boned, skeletal.  Language made holy; space made archaic; time made the here-and-now of the theatrical experience; the text so precise it strives to musicality and incantation.

What is it about this first love of ours that endures, that returns, that brackets our lives? Theater, I think, reminds us again, in case we had forgotten, that we are all several people, several personae battling it out, that our first love is, therefore, many loves. And if there is a home for people like us, who have known the “salt of many departures” (from Dante), it must be in the knowledge and acceptance of all the multiplicities inherent in our singular, eternal and first love. And because the last words should be yours, let me end by offering you your words: We can now hope to wear our contradictions and multiplicity comfortably enough to … use them instead of nurse them, love them instead of containing them, share them instead of submerging them.

Safe travels.




About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
This entry was posted in Aging, well enough, Letters and dispatches, Ordinary places, Rx for Maladies, Those we Love and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to First loves: Notes on Peter Brook’s “The Grand Inquisitor”

  1. Kirill Thompson says:

    dear professor voskeritchian. greetings from taiwan. i am very interested in this performance of the grand inquisitor, but since i am in asia (or off asia?), i could not see it in person. can you check whether there are any dvds or videos of this drama? i will teach a seminar on literary and film expressions of existentialism in the fall semester and would love to have this!! thanks. kirill thompson, national taiwan university

    • Dear Kirill Thompson,
      I assume that you have searched on the internet for a video or dvd of Peter Brook’s Grand Inquisitor. Other than the internet, I think your best bet are the sites where the play has been performed. I saw it at the Paramount Theatre in Boston through ArtsEmerson programming. The second place to check would be the theater that Peter Brook founded (and ran for many years) in Paris, Theatre Bouffes du Nord.
      I hope this helps, and good luck!

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