Conventional wisdom suggests that the more string Richard Foreman stretches across the stage, the better the show will be. The set for Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland—reportedly the last of his forays into multimedia before he returns to theater (Hooray!)—has only a few wires dividing the space, and it unfortunately bears this hypothesis out.
“Better” in this case can only mean relative to other Richard Foreman shows, since few makers of performance can approach his brand of cerebral exuberance. His nonlinear aesthetic often calls to mind elements that have little to do with contemporary theater, or even other experimental theater—films of the 1930s (especially the Marx Brothers’), Nietzsche, Yiddish vaudeville, Balthus, etc., fragmented and filtered through a highly developed and idiosyncratic vision. Foreman’s most successful shows somehow transcend the claustrophobic sense of being trapped in a brilliant mind, allowing us not only to be inside Foreman’s thoughts, but to see the world transformed through his eyes.
Deep Trance shuttles between three locations, with live actors before the audience and filmed actors in Japan and the U.K. appearing on two large video screens on the back wall of the stage. This pseudo–video conferencing setup suggests an oblique commentary on globalism and the workplace, as does a hysterically funny costume depicting America as a gigantic hummingbird. The Japanese and English casts appear largely in conference rooms, hotel rooms, and meeting halls. While
the director successfully integrates the video and live components of the show, a sense of confusion pervades the piece. Question marks, sometimes in multiples, frequently appear on the screens. Voiceovers and actors repeat several lines, many of which imply a bankruptcy of ideas, but it isn’t clear enough whether Foreman thinks the world has run out of creative solutions or the director himself has. As the choreographed squad of five moves across the stage, they and a series of voiceovers make statements like: “The feeling of no feeling,” “Nothing in the verifiable fact, or the verifiable future,” and the oft-whispered line “Stasis.”
Disorder and writer’s block are perfect subject matter for Foreman, of course, since his process is a meta-process, in which no aspect of making work need remain invisible, from awkward writing to accidental pratfalls. But his most delightful shows, no matter what they’re about, sustain a theatrical joie de vivre, a circus atmosphere that supports his precarious mental gymnastics and jewel-like ideas. Deep Trance feels more like a chamber piece about a chamber piece. He hasn’t taken full advantage of the eccentric stage presence of his New York players, dressed like the Addams family—such as the striking Fulya Peker in black lipstick and Joel Israel in vampire drag, complete with fangs. Nor does he bless them with outbursts of insight or naive brilliance, compared to entire plays of his packed with such thrills, like Samuel’s Major Problems (1993) or Paradise Hotel (Hotel Fuck) (1998).
This time out, Foreman seems almost antagonistic toward his live players. And the filmed sequences are even emptier and performers more affectless than the flesh-and-blood ones. At the end of Deep Trance, the actors have all fallen down as if dead, whereupon the video screens announce: “The actors are only resting. However, the performance is now over.” The audience walks out while the actors continue to play dead onstage. No bows at the footlights, no applause, no curtain call. Amusing, yes, and certainly unconventional. Maybe it represents Foreman’s self-punishment for a piece that falls below his usual standard of inspired mayhem. However much one may dislike the habitual neediness of actors, for a director to deprive them of praise can’t help but come off as a cruel management strategy, especially after a grueling conference call like this one.