The Grand Inquisitor, The Pit, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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Blasphemous when written, dynamite during the Communist era, this parable from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov is, to say the least, pertinent now. Christ returns to Earth during the Inquisition but is arrested and flung into a cell, where he's visited by the 90-year-old cardinal who presides over the autos-da-fé.

The cardinal tells him that the Church has, for the past several centuries, been following not his precepts but those of the Devil. His flock, says the inquisitor, are happier if they are not free to think and act. "Man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil. Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience, but nothing is a greater cause of suffering." Since men are foolish, Christ would have served them better if he had loved them less.

The narrator explains that the cardinal's love of humanity has made him believe that he must "lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least, on the way, think themselves happy."

A text for our times, indeed, but not one that would seem to lend itself to transformation by Peter Brook - indeed, the only characteristic notes in this 50-minute monologue are the costume of the young man who is the silent object of the cardinal's wrath (black silk Indian tunic and trousers), the harsh, white lighting (in Dostoevsky's story, a single candle burns in the darkness), and the choice of Bruce Myers, Brook's longtime associate, to play the cardinal. Myers is a good choice if you want mellifluousness, whether of holy man or oily villain. But the inquisitor demands acting more complex and compelling than this.

While one doesn't expect an hour of fireworks - the cardinal has long been steeped in duplicity, and his prisoner doesn't inspire fear or rage - it's still disappointing to see a performance in which the cardinal merely raises his voice twice, his tone otherwise gently regretful, at times so soft that one must strain to hear. Although this is the first time the cardinal has revealed his thoughts to anyone, Myers sounds as if he has made this speech many times before. And he conveys no sense of the cardinal's torment, of his arrival at this point after a lifetime of suffering, as opposed to Myers' smug superiority.

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