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Find Your Place In The “History Of The World”

by Karen Tortora-Lee on January 9, 2012

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“History is written by the victors” said Winston Churchill and while that may be true, history is certainly interpreted by the artists.  History of The World, written by Judith Malina currently being performed at The Living Theatre not only illustrates this, but exemplifies it.  Filled with dramatic scenes of artists, philosophers, thinkers, and game-changers this interactive staging takes the audience through a journey where the goal is not so much to witness history as to experience it, explore it vicerally, and (ultimately) to know it in a way that the history books could never emulate.

The Living Theatre, founded by Malina (and Julian Beck) in 1947, is the oldest experimental NYC theatre still in existence.  This latest conceptual play is the perfect cocktail of experimental theatre with long roots: it simultaneously reflects the freshness of understanding the subtle nuances of contemporary themes, original ideas and developing concepts; while still being richly imbued with many years of  development in the experimental milieu. The result is an evening of everything New York underground experimental theatre should be – stirring, moving, a little unpredictable — at times a little uncomfortable.  If you give yourself over to the process, History of the World will allow you to experience moments of true fear, actual deeply moving pain, and (ultimately) invite you to raise yourself to a higher emotional plane – all in 90 minutes.

As the performance starts, the audience is led into a space by a number of black-clad “Guides”** who are there to inform and facilitate as they gently invite you to imitate, mime and mirror their movements in a way that soon makes sense.  There is a natural flow to the evening as the group of performers constantly swirl around creating different tableaux, scenarios and events.  While there might be an initial sense of “wait, what am I supposed to be doing here?” it is quickly swept away by the current of emotions  – after all, you are not there to carry the show but rather to be more vitally a part of a living history lesson.  There are no wrong moves — there are no wrong emotions.  And if there are any things that don’t feel good you are not expected to do more than you can.  (It is recommended, however, that if you have problems kneeling for periods of time … or sitting on the floor … you make that fact know to your Guide who will be more than generous about making you comfortable during the evening’s events).

A great deal of history is covered – quickly but not hastily – and some moments are made of pure poetic beauty (my favorite was the vignette of Amelia Earhart’s plane soaring into the skies) accompanied by nothing more than simple yet effective lighting and sound effects created by the ensemble.  Throughout the evening there is also music composed by Sheila Dabney which is played by Patrick Demayo on drums and Eric Olson on guitar.

As with any experience in life, the more you give during the evening the more you find yourself receiving as you bring your energy and core from the cave dwellers to the digital age.

The last ten minutes of History Of The World finds the room creating a new, next level and it’s astonishing how a group of strangers can unite under the umbrella of one thought and intensify it to a stunning roar.  Of course, in the midst of OWS (and its many rippling influences in today’s society) it’s even more poignant to note how fiercely this need to align energies drives all human beings.  Sometimes the goal is to align in order to change history.  Sometimes, as with this show, the goal is to gather in order to witness history.  Regardless of the purpose, the outcome is the same: a true sense of community, of bonding, and of uncovering something within ourselves that we didn’t see before.

By all means, take this opportunity to experience the latest chapter of The Living Theatre and of History of the World.  It will give you a stirring perspective of the world -and of your place in it- that you’ll carry with you for a long, long time.

**History of the World is performed by:   Diana Oh, Tom Walker, Sheila Dabney, Monica Hunken, Soraya Broukhim, Brad Burgess, Homa Hynes, Jay Dobkin, Kennedy Yanko, Kyle Ryan, Brent Barker, Antwan Ward, Mary Round, Miranda Rovetto, Rose Lovell, Jen Emma Hertel, Anna Agostino, Ana Holly, John Gasper, Erin Downhour, and Martin Lutz.


a new play written by Judith Malina

The Living Theatre
21 Clinton Street
New York, New York

Wed – Sat 8PM
DEC 31-FEB 28
Tickets are 20 dollars;  OR “Pay What You Can” Wed/Thurs (available by donation on Wednesday & Thursday nights only)
Click here to purchase


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad BurgessNo Gravatar January 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Thank you from The Living. Great essay overall aside from the review. Thanks for your thoughts and kind words. I really appreciated this review, and Judith was just absolutely flattered. Best,

Brad Burgess
Executive Producer

Karen Tortora-LeeNo Gravatar January 13, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Thank you, Brad! And thanks to all involved. The evening was truly unexpected, magical and life affirming. I left the theatre with a completely different energy … and that was amazing. I’m glad you (and Judith!) -and hopefully others of the ensemble- felt that I did the show justice.
Best, Karen Tortora-Lee

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