The Valley of Astonishment OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Sara Krulwich

  • EW


  • TM


Opening Night:
September 14, 2014
October 5, 2014

Theater: Polonsky Shakespeare Center / 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217


Imagine a world where every sound has a color. Where every color has a taste. Where the number 8 is a fat lady. This breathtaking new play explores the fascinating experiences of real people who see the world in a radically different light. The Valley of Astonishment is a kaleidoscopic journey into the mysteries and wonders of the human brain, inspired by years of neurological research, true stories, and Farid Attar’s epic mystical poem “The Conference of the Birds.” Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne return to TFANA after Fragments and their international hits The Suit and A Magic Flute, with a company featuring Kathryn Hunter (A Midsummer Night’s DreamKafka’s Monkey), Marcello Magni (Fragments), and Jared McNeill (The Suit at BAM).

  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF The Valley of Astonishment

    A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Take for Granted ‘The Valley of Astonishment,’ by Brook and Estienne

    Ben Brantley

    September 20, 2014: Everything comes wrapped in silence in The Valley of Astonishment, Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne’s wonder-struck contemplation of the enigma of the human mind, which opened on Thursday night at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. A shimmer of stillness seems to surround every word spoken, every gesture made, every note sounded in this essayistic work about extraordinary sensory perceptiveness. What’s created is not exactly a barrier between the audience and the stage, but what might be called a zone of thoughtfulness. An implicit request fills this silence: Think about how you think. Try to feel out, if you can, the way you feel. Long before mindfulness became the watchword du jour, Mr. Brook, perhaps the most influential of all living stage directors, was exploring theater as a means of magnifying the essential elements of daily existence and to find the vastness within. In an interview in 1995, he said his goal was to make audiences “look at something they’ve taken for granted since they were born, which is a mind, as if it were a great dawn or Everest.”

  • ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY REVIEW OF The Valley of Astonishment

    The Valley of Astonishment Review

    Thom Geier

    September 19, 2014: Is there a landscape as remote and uncharted as the human brain? The Valley of Astonishment, a new one-act play by 89-year-old writer-director Peter Brook and his long-time collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne, explores the lives of three remarkable people who challenge our notion of the limits of that muscle between our ears. (The show plays through Oct. 5 at Brooklyn's Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center.) We meet a painter (Jared McNeill) who sees colors whenever he hears sounds and plays jazz in his studio as if dictating what his brain is conjuring. We meet another man (Marcello Magni) who has become paralyzed, without a sense of spatial orientation or proprioperception, but who wills himself to move when he looks at his limbs and concentrates. And most intriguingly, we encounter a woman (the amazing Kathryn Hunter) who has a seemingly bottomless memory by turning words and numbers into mnemonic ''movies'' that she can never erase.  

  • FINANCIAL TIMES REVIEW OF The Valley of Astonishment

    The Valley of Astonishment, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, New York

    Brendan Lemon

    September 21, 2014: This calm, fascinating, rather chilly 75-minute theatre piece, written and directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, grew out of an earlier work, Je suis un phénomène, devoted to memory. This time, the subject is primarily synaesthesia, the condition that makes people involuntarily associate something with an unexpected sense. The word blue “tastes” inky, or a D-sharp “looks” mauve. I first encountered synaesthesia in the writings of Vladimir Nabokov – he, his wife and their son had the condition – but the authorial presence for Brook and Estienne is Oliver Sacks, as it was for Phénomène and The Man Who. If, for humans, the brain is the final frontier, these three explorations provide a fitting, near-final summa for the career of Brook, who is 89.

  • THEATERMANIA REVIEW OF The Valley of Astonishment

    Legendary theater director Peter Brook looks at the neurological condition known as synesthesia

    David Gordon

    September 18, 2014: In the new 80-minute piece The Valley of Astonishment, estimable theater makers Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne explore the inner workings of the brain. The particular focus of the show, which comes to Theatre for a New Audience's Polonsky Shakespeare Center after a European tour, is the phenomenon called synesthesia, in which one's senses essentially double up: sounds become colors, numbers become figures. Utilizing their own research and that of eminent neurologists including Dr. Oliver Sacks, the directors present their creation in a theatrically vivid manner, one that isn't as didactic as you might expect. Those with a background in cognitive science might find the show a bit too recognizable, but for those who don't, it's surprising how refreshingly digestible it is. At 89, Brook, whose best known New York credits are the Tony-winning Marat/Sade and the 1971 Midsummer Night's Dream set entirely in a white box, hasn't lost the creativity that has set him apart from the rest of the pack for the duration of his long, varied career. There's barely any set (and no credited designer): just a few tables and chairs surrounded by the vast empty space of Theatre for a New Audience's three-quarter-thrust stage. This allows our imagination to run as wild as the ones that belong to the characters, played by Kathryn Hunter, Marcello Magni, and Jared McNeill.

  • NEW YORK DAILY NEWS REVIEW OF The Valley of Astonishment

    British theater great Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne explore the mysteries of the human mind

    Joe Dziemianowicz

    September 18, 2014: Imagine being able to remember everything — forever. Great, right? Actually, no. So it goes in this lyrical look at the mysteries of the human mind. It’s written and directed by renowned British theater artist Peter Brook and Marie-H é l è ne Estienne. Drawn from fact and fiction, the show centers on Samy Costas (Kathryn Hunter, beguiling), who can remember infinite lists of names and numbers. Samy could be a cousin of the cop on “Unforgettable,” the TV series where perfect memory always comes in handy. For Samy, who agrees to be studied by researchers, not being able to forget eventually proves unsettling.



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