Peter Brook, two-time Tony award winner, and his collaborator, Marie-Hélène Estienne, come together once again to create The Prisoner at the Yale Repertory Theater. This show is currently being performed internationally in Germany, France, England, Poland and New York City. The play brings to light many different topics, including crime, justice and compassion. This play is definitely one that leaves the audience with an enormous amount of unanswered questions. Although I appreciate the theatricality that this show presents and the honor of watching Brook’s work, it fell short of holding my interest.
This story was inspired 40 years ago when Brook was in Afghanistan and witnessed a prisoner serving his sentence by sitting outside of the prison. Brook found himself wondering, “Who was he? Why was he? What was he doing there?” Not too long after, he realized that these are questions that are relevant to everyday life and serve a greater purpose in understanding ourselves and the world around us. The Prisoner is a story that is supposed to make you reevaluate your situation.
The set, in a way, is the actors, lights, and sound effects. The stage is scattered with nothing more than many branches that represent different places and objects throughout the show. The actors manipulate and arrange the sticks in various ways in order to fashion them into something else. Having such a bare set gives the audience a chance to truly only focus on the actors and dialogue. In theory, that sounds like an interesting idea, but the dialogue is very minimal since the show relies on storytelling mostly through physical movements. The production is extremely drawn out in certain moments that could be tightened up to move the story along faster.
Hiran Abeysekera gives a strong performance as Muvaso, the prisoner. Muvaso is sent to prison for killing his father after finding the father in bed with his sister, who he is in love with. His punishment is to sit outside of a prison for 20 years, only surviving by finding his own food and having practically no company besides a random animal that lurks near him or strangers passing by. One fun moment is when Muvaso spots an animal and mimes playing with it, since there isn’t actually a real-life animal onstage with him. Abeysekera did a great job in using the minimalism of the set and props to really be creative in portraying him playing with an animal, climbing a tree, and roasting food.
The lighting design is successful in representing time and showing that days were passing. One stand-out moment that combines the lights and sound design is during a scene when Muvaso is in a forest. Through the birds chirping and the green lighting, those elements are successful in achieving the feeling of him actually being in a forest.
Brooks and Estienne create a piece of theater that is definitely a unique experience, having a very vague plot that leaves a lot of things up to the audience for interpretation. I acknowledge what this performance is trying to convey, but it doesn’t succeed in being an engaging production. The plot needs to be easier to understand and there just needs to be more action and a quicker pace in order to hold audience’s attention.
Tickets for this show can be found through: https://www.yalerep.org/productions-and-programs/production/the-prisoner