According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Astronome: A Night at the Opera

If Richard Foreman's work were ever able to be summarized in three lines or less, it would no longer really be Foreman. It's hard to say where his latest--a collaboration with avant-garde soundscraper John Zorn--fits in to his eclectic canon. Let it just be known that for all the vibrating, waggling, creepy voiceovers, oddball costumes, madhouse set, and overall absurdity, it does fit: a style all its own.

Photo/Paula Court

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

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 neccessary. 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.

Astronome: A Night at the Opera (1 hour)
The Ontological Theater @ St. Mark's Church (131 East 10th Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $25 ($35 on Saturday)
Performances (through 4/5): Tues., Thurs. - Sun. @ 8

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