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Reviewed by:
  • The World in an Orange: Creating Theatre with Barney Simon
  • Loren Kruger
The World in an Orange: Creating Theatre with Barney Simon Compiled by Irene Stephanou and Leila Henriques; Edited by Lionel Abrahams and Jane Fox New York: Seven Stories, 2005. ISBN: 1-58322-711-3. $29.95 paper.

If we were to judge this book by its cover or by its lavish display throughout of portraits and production shots of theater artists alongside images of ordinary people and the built environment of Johannesburg, we might jump to the conclusion that this was merely a collection of tributes to Barney Simon (1932–1995), director, writer, and founder of the Market Theatre and its distinctive brand of workshop creation and performance of internationally acclaimed anti-apartheid plays like Woza Albert (1981) and Born in the RSA (1986). A closer reading of the texts, however, reveals an ensemble more complex than a simple chorus of praises. As fellow director Peter Brook puts it in his opening "message," many voices speak in this book about the "painful, joyous contradictions" (iii) of the man, his work as a director, writer and, most creatively and controversially, his genius for peeling away the layers of conventional expression to draw out, to absorb and even to appropriate the gifts of others. The diversity of opinions among his friends and collaborators as well as the vivid and analytical comments from lighting, costume, and production designers alongside those of actors and writers, and the chronological sweep from Simon's childhood in the 1930s through his pioneering work with urban black theater in the 1960s and rural health education performance in the 1970s, which grounded his better-known achievements at the Market (1976–1995), make this book a valuable resource for South African theater specialists but no less an absorbing and illuminating account of this exemplary South African and his world.

The book follows a chronological outline, from part one on "beginnings" to part five on "legacies," but enriches the picture overall and in detail by juxtaposing temporally apt parts of longer interviews from different people. This strategy fleshes out the bare-bones time-line of Simon's work in the appendix, which includes a short bibliography. This juxtaposition also highlights the evolution of and contradictions in the director's progress and that of his associates, from [End Page 192] his mentors—Joan Littlewood in London, Joseph Chaikin in New York or (by indirect example) Bertolt Brecht—to his successors at the Market, such as John Kani, who honors Simon as his second white friend (after Fugard) and Malcolm Purkey, the current artistic director and the sole striking omission from this book. The opening pages, for instance, quote an interview in which Simon suggested that he drew for the representation of unspeakable pain in the Marat/Sade in 1976 on his mother's visceral reaction to an elderly rabbi's account of the slaughter of Jews in Nazi-occupied Lithuania (4), but the interview with childhood friend and later actor Molly Seftel, who created the role of Hester in Athol Fugard's Hello and Goodbye in 1965, which Simon directed, moves away from this religious inspiration to insist on the secular and leftist dimension of this generation's Yiddishness (15), a claim confirmed by his willingness, absent any overt political affiliation, to harbor a fellow secular Jew, Arthur Goldreich, theater designer and close associate of Nelson Mandela, when the latter had broken out of political prison. The arrangement marks the way in which some, such as Vanessa Cooke, actor, director, and long-term manager of the Market Theatre Laboratory, worked continuously with Simon from 1971, from the days of the Rehearsal Room in downtown Dorkay House, a hold-out from the relatively integrated 1950s, through the opening of the Market Theatre, which defied the laws governing segregation in 1976, to that of the Laboratory, opened in 1990, while others, particularly writers such as Paul Slabolepszy, felt initially inspired by Simon's intensely collaborative process but eventually "had to run away" (326) to protect any artistic autonomy. Several, including veteran performers like Sophie Mcgina, praised Simon for his empathy with black people's lives while nonetheless noting that "if...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2044
Print ISSN
0034-5210
Pages
pp. 192-193
Launched on MUSE
2007-09-26
Open Access
No
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