Richard Foreman’s Truly Brilliant Idiot

11/04/2009 12:50 PM |

The Idiot Savant enters the stage holding a stuffed duck in a golden cage (a smaller version of the giant duck that shows up later), a pacifier in his mouth, his hair tied into a puffy pony tail at the top of his head, wearing a black velvet kilt, ruffled white shirt, backwards yellow tie, and shiny black clown shoes, with high white socks held up by garters. He’s being followed by three butlers of varying weights and heights each wearing a fez and tuxedo, and aiming arrows tipped with red golf balls at the Savant, as Marie watches in mock horror wearing a velvet green gown (think Princess Fiona’s dress from Shrek). Dafoe proceeds so slowly from the back of the stage, he barely seems to move at all; his pigeon-toed march forward is made acutely frightening by the look of concentration on his face: he has already begun to sweat and the familiar furrow in his brow has become a canyon between his eyes. The rising sound of a screeching violin brings the picture into hypertension as the whole dance lasts for close to a minute and half, but feels like an hour. It was experimental theater bliss.

And this is only the first 3 minutes of the play. Trying to recount all the crazy shit that happens afterward in any logical sense would be nearly impossible and produce a life-ending migraine, but suffice it to say that Dafoe battles with the Savant and his musings like a mad bull fighting for its life, with Marie and Olga egging him on and trying to make him desist all at the same time. Dafoe’s face is a joy to watch as he switches between emotions in flickering instances, like Foreman is turning a big “Acting” knob on his back, each new look perpetuating a different mask and almost a wholly different character.

There is one point, after a particularly nonsensical moment of crazy sound effects leaves the players wandering around the stage confused, that Dafoe remarks, in a barely audible voice: “Is this face of mine real, or simply a thing that whispers at crucial moments?” Whoa. Say what you will about sense and nonsense, but this is a very deep question, not only for the play, but also for an actor who has made a career on the amorphous pound of flesh that is the folds of his visage. In an interview on WNYC this same type of question is raised when Leonard Lopate asks who the real Dafoe is. “That’s always a good question for me,” Dafoe responds, “who that is.” But again, no answer is given and we are left to wonder if Dafoe even really knows himself.