Friday, February 13, 2009

Astronome: A Night At The Opera

Photo/Paula Court

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.


Aaron Leichter said...

Congrats on your first Foreman experience! I used to take a different "civilian" friend to see Foreman each season, partly to shock 'em & partly to cleanse my own critical palate. It's nice to know that he's still tramping around at the Ont-Hys, making performance that's truly on the edge!

Despite a lack of posting, I'm still plugging away at IJ. Working on a post for (roughly) the halfway point. I hope you're still enjoying it too.

Aaron Riccio said...

Still enjoying Infinite Jest, yes. Still *READING* Infinite Jest, no. I am attempting to juggle "Fanon," "The Monsters of Templeton," and "The View from the Seventh Layer" instead. (Wouldn't it be cool if I were literally doing so?) I fully intend to start reading again, but my motivation fizzled out when we all stopped writing about it. (I'll say anything to make it not my fault.)

Glad I got the opportunity to see Foreman though, and I'll be seeing the Civilians later. That really leaves only The Wooster Group and Mabou Mines off my list . . . though I'm sure there's plenty more that I just haven't heard of yet.

Aaron Leichter said...

Yeah, I found I didn't have much to say about IJ after a while: I was just gushing. Plus, schlepping the tome on the subway was hurting my back.

If you can, checkout the Mabou Mines "Dollhouse" at St. Ann's. It's very high-concept, but gets the job done.

When are you catching the Civilians? I'll be checking it a week from Thursday.