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Great Lengths

Seven Works of Marathon Theater
Jonathan Kalb
Winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism and the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association

Description

  • George Freedley Memorial Award

  • George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism

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, 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.

"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

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 Müller.

Praise / Awards

  • "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, each essay's opening paragraph a model of precision and enthralling completeness."
    —Gordon Rogoff, Yale University

  • "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

  • "...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

  • "Like Kushner's lasagna of a good play, Great Lengths is stuffed, packed in this case with rich journalistic descriptions of landmark productions and earnest meditations on the value and necessity of theatre. For these reasons, it will be read and enjoyed for a very long time indeed."
    —John H. Muse, Modern Drama
  • Great Lengths is a major achievement in theatre history and criticism… Balancing rigorous scholarship with vivid first-person accounts that transport the reader to each show, this absorbing book will engage theatre aficionados as well as students and scholars.”
    —John H. Muse, Modern Drama
  • Winner of the George Freedley Memorial Award from the Theatre Library Association

  • Winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism

News, Reviews, Interviews

Watch: Author Interview | 9/27/2011

Read: Review | 9/28/11

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 240pp.
  • 11 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2011
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11795-6

Add Hardcover of 'Great Lengths' to Cart
  • $55.00 U.S.
  • $55.00 CAN

  • Paper
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03549-6

Add Paper of 'Great Lengths' to Cart
  • $28.95 U.S.
  • $28.95 CAN


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Keywords

  • Nicholas Nickleby, The Mahabharata, Angels in America, Einstein on the Beach, Quizoola!, Speak Bitterness, Faust I + II, Goethe, Peter Brook, Tony Kushner, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, Forced Entertainment, Peter Stein, marathon theater, epic theater, durational theater

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