The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance, Structure
(New Delhi: Abhinav Publishers, 1984)
“South Asian theatrical traditions have rarely received the detailed analysis and discussion that other forms such as kabuki and noh of Japan, Bejing opera, or the works of major Western genres or dramatists have. Phillip Zarrilli’s book on ‘the Kathakali Complex’ is an ambitious and exemplary attempt to move beyond the limitations of studies currently available in English … [I]t is precisely the general familiarity with kathakali that makes Zarrilli’s book so timely and successful. Zarrilli is not writing an introduction to kathakali; that work has already been done. Rather, his book is an in-depth study of the practices that constitute the kathakali tradition-a close look at its ‘multiple prisms and surfaces’ … Zarrilli writes with the hard-won authority of the participant/observer who has clearly earned the respect and confidence of kathakali teachers and performers through his own immersion in the disciplines involved. He is able to combine this experiential access to knowledge with a usually clear writing style, a sense of scholarly priorities, and a sensitivity to the needs and interests of those concerned with the history, aesthetics, and social implications of kathakali, as well as those with more broadly-based interests in performance theory. This is a hard balance to strike, and I admire his clarity and sense of purpose as he moves among epistemologies-each adding substance and perspective to the other … Zarrilli clearly knows his way through the newly grown but increasingly dense thickets of performance theory. The section offering a ‘micro-analysis’ of a typical kathakali performance ‘strip’ is particularly challenging and intriguing … He … successfully uses structural models to elucidate how the life of the performance is shaped for the actor and the audience in the ‘series of elaborations, elaborations on and within elaborations, and embellishments’ that constitutes the ‘complex performance score of kathakali’.”
Excerpted from “Beyond the Kathakali Mystique” by John Emigh, The Drama Review, 172-175.
“Phillip Zarrilli’s painstakingly meticulous documentation of Kathakali successfully disposes of all the previous erroneous information that has muddled one of the most fantastic theater forms of our day…To our great fortune, Zarrilli is among the growing number of scholars of theater and dance who have forced a new approach to the study of performance…Put forward in layperson’s parlance, Zarrilli’s book is an exquisite explanation of the complex and detailed world of Kathakali from its historical roots…to its diverse contemporary situation in India and abroad…This book is a classic that will hold its place for some time to come.”
Excerpts from review by Carol Martin, Journal of South Asian Studies, 900-901.