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Great Lengths: Seven Works of Marathon Theater [Hardcover]

Jonathan Kalb

Price: CDN$ 60.30 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Oct. 6 2011

"Reading this book is certainly a vigorous experience. Kalb's sense of nuance, unpredictability, and the complexity of perception brings these productions to life. He is our surrogate, our scapegoat even, enduring the length of these productions so that he can convey the essence of their power."
---Stanton B. Garner, Jr., University of Tennessee

"Jonathan Kalb takes us on a tour of monumental theater events, which flaunt the rules of economy, Aristotelian and otherwise. Kalb captures these unwieldy marathon productions by skillfully mixing personal experience and scholarly analysis. I read this engaging book in a single sitting---and came away ready to join the first theater marathon I could find."
---Martin Puchner, Harvard University

"Jonathan Kalb's "Great Lengths" leaps to the head of any class in theatre history. Rich with critical perspective of 'marathon' works by Peter Brook, Tony Kushner, Robert Wilson, and others, and written with panache and lucidity, Kalb's book is filled with suspense as he describes and demystifies more than the post-modern and post-dramatic haunting recent theatre. This is history as present event, embracing the Greeks, Shakespeare, and even Charles Dickens."
---Gordon Rogoff, Yale University

We know that size matters in many areas of human endeavor, but what about works of the imagination? Why do some dramatic creations extend to five hours or more, and how does their extreme length help them accomplish extraordinarily ambitious aims? In "Great Lengths," theater critic and scholar Jonathan Kalb addresses these and other questions through a close look at seven internationally prominent theater productions, including Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," Robert Wilson's" Einstein on the Beach," and the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Nicholas Nickleby," and the "durational works" of the British experimental company Forced Entertainment. This is a book about extreme length, monumental scope, and intensive immersion in the theater in general, written by a passionate spectator reflecting on selected pinnacles of his theatergoing over thirty years.

The book's examples, deliberately chosen for their diversity, range from adapted novels and epics, to dramatic chronicles with macrohistorical and macropolitical implications, to stagings of super-size classic plays, to "postdramatic" works that negotiate the border between life and art. Kalb reconstructs each of the works, re-creating the experience of seeing it while at the same time explaining how it maintained attention and interest over so many hours, and then expanding the scope to embrace a wider view and ask broader questions. The discussion of "Nicholas Nickleby," for example, considers melodrama as a basic tool of theatrical communication, and the section on Peter Brook's" The Mahabharata" explores the ethical problems surrounding theatrical exoticism. The chapter on "Einstein on the Beach" grows into a reflection on the media-age status of the much-debated "Gesamtkunstwerk "(or "total artwork") and a reassessment of the long avant-gardist tradition of challenging the primacy of rational language in theater. The essay on Peter Stein's "Faust I + II" becomes a reflection on the interpretive role of theater directors and the theatrical viability of antitheatrical closet drama. "Great Lengths" thus offers a remarkable panorama of the surprisingly broad field of contemporary marathon theater---an art form that diverse audiences of savvy, screen-weaned spectators continue to seek out, for the increasingly rare experiences of awe, transcendence, and sustained immersion that it provides.

"Great Lengths" will appeal to general readers as well as theater specialists. It situates the chosen productions in various historical and critical contexts and engages with the many lively scholarly debates that have swirled around them. At the same time, it uses the productions as springboards for wide-ranging reflections on the basic purpose and enduring power of theater in an attention-challenged, media-saturated era.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Michigan Pr (Oct. 6 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0472117955
  • ISBN-13: 978-0472117956
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.7 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 522 g

Product Description


."..Kalb's fine-tuned prose, his dryly witty but earnest voice and his ability to make deep connections across centuries and continents make "Great Lengths" a steady and exciting read. It also functions as a marvelous history of Western drama that summarizes a number of theorretical constructs from Aristotle's prescriptive "Poetics" to Lehman's concept of 'post-dramatic' theater."
--"American Theatre"

--David Cote"American Theatre" (03/08/2012)

About the Author

Jonathan Kalb is a theater critic and scholar whose work has appeared in "Village Voice" and "New York Press." He is Professor in the Department of Theater at Hunter College, City University of New York, and author of "Beckett in Performance" and "The Theater of Heiner Muller."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Marathon Theater seen through the Lens of Passionate Scholarship March 16 2013
By Virginia Pye - Published on
I came to this book of scholarship knowing nothing, or at least very little, about marathon theater. Kalb's easy and intelligent style brought me into this particular, and perhaps most refined, corner of the theater world. But, I did not feel that either the subject or his writing were too erudite for me to enjoy the beauty and intelligence of long theater works.

Kalb weaves his impressive historical knowledge of theather into detailed descriptions of marathon productions he has seen and studied. The opinions of other critics are likewise woven into the immediate descriptions of the works. For example, while sharing the swirl of criticsm that surrounded the Mahabharata at the time of its showing in New York, Kalb also gives us a keen visceral sense of being there in the theater with him to see the show. The politics behind Angels in America, both in the theater world and in the country at large, is woven into eloquent descriptions of the show, each actor and their performance. The energy, the rise and fall within each production, and the success of each work are all carefully shown.

This makes for fascinating reading. I felt privileged to "see" these masterworks through Kalb's eyes, and it made me more interested than ever to witness marathon theater myself in the future. This is criticism at its best--when thater history, politics and aesthetic debate all inform carefully wrought descriptions of the plays as performed.

Kalb's love of the theater, his respect and occasional awe for the playwrights, directors and actors is what propels this book. He is passionate about great theater and shares that passion through dynamic scholarship.
4.0 out of 5 stars A rare and enjoyable book of criticism June 21 2012
By Forest F. White - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Pros: When I began reading this, the only book I could find that detailed a performance of Goethe's Faust I and II (which is seldom performed, let alone written about), I was under the false impression that this critic was only going to cover the highlights of these long performances. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of analysis provided in this book. I can't say I've seen all the performances covered here, as each is a sort of marathon of theater, but this book left me with an appreciation of the place and intent of Einstein on the Beach and Nicholas Nickleby, which I had actively avoided, and broader critical perspective on The Ramayana and my beloved Faust, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Even seeing all of these performances is a noteworthy feat, but the discussion here goes far beyond simply conveying their immensity, artistry, and flaws.

Cons: I cannot fault the author for taking an academic stance at times, and when he does, he does a good job of making obtuse cultural concepts accessible to anyone with a basic appreciation of culture and theory. However, I found the analysis of Angels in America more difficult than the others. Perhaps this is in tandem with the complexity of the work; perhaps it is because of my own background in queer theory. There is a lot written about this play and for good reason because it isn't easy to navigate. I have sought an analysis that I could really get into for some time, and the treatment here approaches a good combination of thoroughness and theory, but I still felt unresolved at the end, like there was more to say but it was maybe not polite or savvy to do so.

Summary: I challenge you to find another book on this subject that isn't the subject of a dissertation, as this book examines some of the most ambitious works ever performed. More-over, it is written with a conscious and penetrating style, to offer depth where once I saw none, and complexity where once I generalized. It is an *enjoyable* work of criticism, which I seldom encounter. 4.5 stars.

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