There's a second subtitle to Richard Foreman's latest work of theater, Astronome: A Night at the Opera, a collaboration with the avant-garde composer John Zorn. That title is the parenthetical "A Disturbing Initiation" (which happens to be especially accurate for me, a first time Foremanner), but that's not a warning, just as the complimentary earplugs aren't actually necessary. It's a statement of fact--something that may not belong in a review of this almost text-less, symbolic work of theater (can it be called a play?). If Zorn's piece--the Tazmanian Devil doing a punk show--is meant to provide catharsis, then it is Foreman's half that is taking it on, showing how "human beings [are] buffeted by forces that invade human life." The result, which seems more directed at the actors than the performers, is one hell of an initiation. "Stage fright" is ominously, constantly whispered by Foreman's disembodied voice, and this is certainly one way to deal with it.
Textual analysis seems a little pointless, though, given the way in which Hebrew and English letters are spiderwebbed across the set, alchemical diagrams come wheeling out, and a woman in all black (Deborah Wallace) keeps attempting to erase an already clean blackboard. It's also hard to put a straight face on actors going in and out of a giant nostril and mouth, something that seems reminiscent of Double Dare, or the long-tongued lounge "singer," a green-skinned Tony Clifton (Jamie Peterson). What's necessary, by Foreman's rules--"I don't see it, you don't see it, nobody sees it except the man stumbling upon it quite by accident"--is to just experience it. Watch the symmetrical moments, the tightly choreographed shaking and collapsing. See the blinking photo flashes, the swinging pendulum, the out-of-place bras. Listen through the throat-clearing music.
"It's very easy to choose the negative path to avoid things that are painful," continues Foreman. His play isn't painful, nor really disturbing, and there are enough oddly wonderful and curious things to fascinate the intrepid theatergoer. But since we're talking about stage fright, isn't Astronome a word of advice to the artist? This is what you can choose, it says, don't avoid it.