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the circular heavens

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Arts and Leisure The Village Times Stony Brook, New York, August 30, 1979
Review: A successful experiment in theatre
By John Mascaro


horsey pony

Peter Rose's one-man extravaganza, "the circular heavens" was particularly impressive. Combining the skills of mime, clown and dancer, Rose creates an image of a beleaguered Contemporary Everyman who threads his way through a world full of strange devices and threatening situations.
As the audience enters, the character is already present, staring at and sweeping the floor. It Takes a few seconds to realize not only that this is the actor, but that the performance has already started. Without a break he finishes sweeping and quietly and gently begins to fill the room with objects wheeled out from the wings. Finally, when the floor is covered with such Things as a fifteen foot collapsible rowboat, a large porcelain toilet, and a galvanized steel garbage can, the character's journey begins.


still for tea

He unfolds the rowboat and gets in. He holds a framed pane of oval glass before his face and peers through it, waving sadly to the audience as through from the cabin porthole of a departing ocean liner. After changing his clothes, eating his lunch and reading to himself from a prayer book, he unfolds a map of the world and spreads it out on the floor. Stepping out onto The face of the map, he thus arrives at his destination-the material world of man-made devices and man-made rules. The work is structured chronologically and proceeds, in a series of vignette-like encounters with the props, to pass through the successive stages of a person's life.. from birth (leaving the mysterious waters for the hard dry land) through childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age. At each stage of the journey a different image or behavior patter becomes a symbol of the life Experience at that age. Rose's idea of the central symbols of the human experience, however, may not strike one at first as being universally valid. The work is infused with a peculiar vision of life, which focuses on the absurdity, neurosis and desparation lurking just under the Surface of our ostensibly "normal" behavior. Rose's character is engaged in a quiet life and death struggle against those mechanisms which operate constantly on us, conditioning us to correctly interpret and respond to the stimuli of human culture and values according to the "rules of the game." To Rose, these forces are more malignant than benevolent. At every turn they attempt to extinguish the irrational spark of spontaneity which gives the human spirit its Beauty and vitality; for this same quality also makes the spirit resistant to control, reluctant to be molded by systems which, from infancy onward, demand passive obedience and acceptance. Rose undermines the power of these systems by showing "reductio ad absurdum" what happens to us when the system gets what it wants. He begins the childhood of his character around the toilet, agent of our first traumatic contact with the forces of discipline and training. He removes a large doll's leg and hand saw from the toilet. He stares vacantly at the leg for a minute, then slowly and deliberately begins to saw through it, tonelessly chanting "Go play in traffic, he told me go play in traffic, go play in traffic…" over and over until the leg is almost severed. He stares again, now at nothing, for a long time. The character moves into adolescence. He simulates the initiation into sexual awareness in an outrageous skit which finds him at the climax on his back across the garbage can, with an out of control bottle of liquid detergent in his lap.

There is much humor in "the circular heaven"-a kind of surrealistic slapstick (the character, in his early manhood stage, ties his ankle to a chair while he shine his shoes. When he is finally done, both he an the audience have forgotten that he is still tied up and they are surprised as he loos when he gets up to walk away and is sent sprawling, chairs shoes and all, across the floor). There is also a peculiar quality, a "density" if you will, difficult to describe, which charges the piece with an atmosphere of creative tension. Not a minute is wasted. The sheer number of props and situations handled, too many to list, and the ease with which his character moves from child to adult, from man to woman, from dancer to sad sack are thoroughly captivating. And that final arbiter of the value of a work, the audience, was enthusiastic and appreciative, if somewhat taken aback, by this eccentric and engaging piece of one-man theatre.


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