The Wooster Group’s Poor Theater: A Series of Simulacra is one of their more mind-boggling productions, even amidst a history of often impenetrable work. Made up of two halves, one a sort of recreation of a “theater troupe’s” attempt to interpret Grotowski’s Akropolis, in the native Polish no less — guttural, overwhelming, indecipherable. The second half is a quasi-exploration of dance improvisation as filtered through the work of William Forsythe. I was of the mistaken belief I could no longer be surprised by these guys, but Poor Theater is by far the most experimental, dumbfounding performance I’ve witnessed.
“Simulacra” means image, representation, or vague semblance of, and indeed what is on stage is a sort of channeling of the creative energies — positive and negative — of Grotowski, Forsythe, and painter Max Ernst. Everything from the metaphorical significance of parquet floors to the evil necessity of corporate performance sponsorship is explored. Poor Theater is a considerably scaled down, organic, relatively low-tech work — and also coincidentally the first essentially post-Willem Dafoe.
The first workshop performances possessed a reverence towards the artists it riffs upon that now seems lacking — Poor Theater has evolved into much ridiculous hamming. There is talk during the coda — amidst a lot of silly preening and flipping — of “moments of recognizable patterns.” And here lies the piece’s secrets: the suggestion that through the muck of performance abstraction and chaos little moments of patterned behavior engender enlightenment. The ante has been upped — Poor Theater is difficult, gloriously impenetrable, yet something of a wonder.