AISLE SAY New York

IDIOT SAVANT

Written and Directed by Richard Foreman
Starring Willem Dafoe
Public Theatre

Reviewed by David Spencer


The dumbest thing you can do at an absolutely archetypal Richard Foreman
evening like the perhaps appropriately titled Idiot Savant at the Public is try to make sense of it. Foreman trades not only in abstractions, but his own delight in the cosmic joke of trying to understand. Why should a play be any more coherent than life? And all his favorite tricks are here: the repeated motifs, mantras, sound effects, disembodied voices and musical punctuation; the weird costumes that are a clownish mix of cultural and international influences, some enhanced with bizarre masks; the likewise hodgepodge stage design with his signature lines of string (the world’s most budget-conscious alienation effect) slashing the width and depth of the playing area at seemingly random angles; and finally of course, the elliptical, enigmatic dialogue spoken by actors who don't so much play roles as play out a ritual. He's the kind of renegade force who inspires fierce loyalty in his cohorts, else how to explain here no less a light than Willem Dafoe in the title role?

The shortfall is that, for all his visual inventiveness and playful naughtiness, Foreman simply isn't a good or artful enough writer to make his enigmas thematically meaningful. Say what you will about Samuel Beckett, in Waiting for Godot and Endgame, that which he means you to be thinking about is crystal clear, despite all the ambiguity, poetic wordplay and abstract symbolism around it.

Mr. Foreman's stuff, on the other hand, makes no such concession and I tend to think it's not because he disdains resonant artistic communication, but because he hasn't got the writer's toolkit to back up his vision, and thus delivers not pointed obfuscation, but rather a kind of high style inarticulacy.

So the only reason to attend, if attend you must, is to immerse yourself in the Foreman experience, if you've never had it before, or if you're too young to remember the avant garde rebellions of the late 50s through the mid 70s. For "new Foreman" though it may be, it's old Foreman straight up.

...and ironically all rather quaint...


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