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Actor’s memory lapses blamed on exhaustion, jet lag

Bruce Myers has gone from performing “The Grand Inquisitor’’ from memory to using a script. Bruce Myers has gone from performing “The Grand Inquisitor’’ from memory to using a script. (Geraint Lewis)
By Laura Collins-Hughes
Globe Staff / March 31, 2011

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Actor Bruce Myers was concerned he’d taken on too much.

Less than a week before director Peter Brook’s theater company left Europe for Boston to begin its US tour of Dostoyevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor’’ and Samuel Beckett’s “Fragments,’’ Myers decided he should pull out of one of them.

“He said, ‘Well, perhaps I should give up “Fragments’’ and just concentrate on “The Grand Inquisitor,’’ ’ ’’ Brook said by phone from Paris. “And then the next morning I spoke to him, and he said, ‘No. That was extreme fatigue, but I am determined not to let anyone down and do my best.’ ’’

But the extreme fatigue followed Myers, a Brook collaborator for more than four decades, across the Atlantic. When he opened here last week in “The Grand Inquisitor,’’ a 40-minute monologue he has performed around the world, he needed to be prompted dozens of times. By the weekend, he was playing the piece with script in hand, and the silent character of Christ was no longer part of the production.

It is a staging that will remain in place, Brook said, throughout the run at ArtsEmerson, where it is in repertory with “Fragments’’ through Sunday.

“We arranged this as a simple practical measure until he’s really back in form, and because we didn’t want to cancel performances or anything like that,’’ the director said.

Brook blamed several factors for Myers’s trouble with his lines in “The Grand Inquisitor,’’ including the fact that “Fragments,’’ an ensemble piece, was new to the actor and required intensive work of him. Meanwhile, though Myers won plaudits from New York critics when he performed “The Grand Inquisitor’’ there in 2008 — Hilton Als, in The New Yorker, praised his “supreme artistic delicacy,’’ and Ben Brantley, in The New York Times, wrote of his “hypnotic central presence’’ — he hadn’t done the piece in two years.

Myers also had “very little rehearsal in Boston,’’ the director said, before the beginning of the two-week run, on most days of which the company performs both pieces.

“Through an enormous amount of work and jet lag, he arrived in the States extremely exhausted, with a double job: playing both ‘Fragments’ for the first time and the ‘Inquisitor,’ which normally he would have taken in his stride,’’ he said. “But he was so tired that it’s had a real bad effect on his memory.’’

Myers was not made available for comment. But in an interview earlier this month from Rome, he spoke of the struggle he’d been having with “Fragments,’’ a play that had long been done by other actors and that he had rehearsed for only a few weeks.

“It’s just difficult. Hard work, as it always was,’’ Myers said.

Brook, who described Myers as “a very fine, sensitive actor’’ who “doesn’t want to let down an audience,’’ took responsibility for misjudging the enormity of the performer’s task.

“It’s something that we knew was tough, and he’d accepted it,’’ said Brook, whose codirector on “Fragments,’’ Marie-Hélène Estienne, is traveling with the company. “We underestimated — which was our fault — we underestimated the physical strain that this was.’’

Whether “The Grand Inquisitor’’ will still be, in effect, a staged reading when the company brings it and “Fragments’’ to Los Angeles next week is unclear.

The script-in-hand staging of “The Grand Inquisitor’’ is a return to the initial incarnation of the piece, Brook said. It’s the way Myers first performed it at a university theater in Warwick, England, when Brook wanted to see how the text, adapted from the novel “The Brothers Karamazov,’’ resonated with a contemporary audience if it were simply read to them.

“Now there’s a little problem,’’ he said, “we know that we’ve got this version up our sleeves.’’

Laura Collins-Hughes can be reached at lcollins-hughes@globe.com.