Richard Foreman’s Truly Brilliant Idiot

11/04/2009 12:50 PM |

Still, Foreman gets a little contrived at times, like as the disembodied Hitchcockian voice-of-Foreman-as-God booming from heaven, ultimately emanates from the giant Hellraiser-evoking Pinhead look-alike duck. This figure proceeds to show us its stigmata, as the Savant cries out: “My God! A duck!”, which could be a standard expletive taking the lord’s name in vain, or a declaration of worship: did the Savant really cage an effigy of his God? There is never a moment when Dafoe loses his drive or concentration, in effect moving the production forward even as Foreman tries to make it stall out.

In what some refer to as post-dramatic theater (why we simply just can't call it avant-garde anymore baffles me), realm that Foreman has occupied, or ruled over, depending on who you ask, for the last half century or so, the playwright, with the help of his actors, has reached a new height with Savant that is simultaneously infuriating and wonderful. It’s hard to say if Foreman generated 80 minutes of successful material from the mere idea of the Savant (one could remove any twenty minute chunk with relatively little detriment to the overall effect), but the surreal set, the frantic techno music interludes and dance sequences, and the wholesale obliteration of any pretense of narrative continuity by the disembodied voice of a gigantic duck, commenting on the production and essentially giving stage directions, creates an experience that’s well worth the discomforts inflicted. Add Dafoe’s performance as the Savant into this heady mix and you have what could be the culmination of the playwright’s oeuvre, and a defining moment for the actor, whose talent seems stretched to its very limits, but never less than up to the task.

At the very end of the play (spoiler alert), although one has no idea its the end at the time, Dafoe stops rambling mid-sentence and remarks with a casual smile that he forgot something and exits stage left. He sprints back in a moment later, wraps himself in the red curtain and falls to the floor, with only the lower half of his body and costume visible to the audience. The halogen bulbs go up, audibly, and the brilliant revelation of all the immediate surfaces of everything in the theater only serves to deepen the mystery behind everything we have just witnessed, as the disembodied voice says unceremoniously that the play is over and you should get out, and one of the butlers appears by the exit and commands everyone to leave. You try to clap at Dafoe’s motionless legs protruding under the curtain, but Foreman denies us that fulfillment as well. Instead, the audience is left feeling a bit like a bunch of idiots themselves.

(photo credit: Joan Marcus)