Richard Foreman tries very hard to empty his head
The downtown avant-garde theater guru Richard Foreman has been churning out original pieces on an annual basis since he founded his own company, the Ontological-Hysteric, in 1968. Foreman’s style is unusual and brilliant, tackling both the circus of ideas that goes on in our heads and the ordinary chaos of existence in the everyday world.
He accomplishes this with a mix of absurdity and an inundation of information causing the audience’s brains to shut down their analysis of the play and become more receptive to the message. Foreman’s plays and his methods are so complex, in fact, that the only plays they resemble are other Richard Foreman plays.
It is only fitting then, for such a complicated playwright/producer/director/sound and light artist, that he be permitted to “take a break.” Thus is the subject of Foreman’s new piece “Zomboid!”—an exploration of what people go through when their minds are “taking a break.”
Like any Foreman piece, the stage is filled with mostly inexplicable and certainly excessive symbols including, but not limited to—a pair of eyes inscribed with Hebrew, numerous cubes with numbers on each side, blindfolds, electric candles hanging from every angle, stuffed donkeys, donkeys painted on boards, donkeys made impromptu out of some of the aforementioned props, and more. These props help to create the same sort of sensory overload that in Foreman’s work acts as a sort of tenderizer on the audience’s brains, however that same sensory overload is also used to different effect in “Zomboid!”
Foreman’s previous piece, “The Gods are Pounding on My Head!” was a sort of insane treatise on the work of everyday life, “Zomboid!” acts as an odd sort of parallel by exploring life’s inherent downtimes. The trick is that Foreman believes this downtime is something our conscious minds are almost completely unaware of. To this effect, the action on stage is periodically met by a purposeful near-blinding of the audience. This blindness illustrates the times in our own lives “between events” when the madness onstage as enacted by the S &M-style actors reflects the madness of inaction in our own minds.
Speaking of the actors, unfortunately in “Zomboid!” they are not much more than enablers for the props. Dressed in black leather, heavy on the Goth makeup, the actors don’t even get the best lines—those are reserved for Foreman’s booming voiceovers—and in fact are often even upstaged by a new addition to his work of pre-recorded video clips projected onto the walls while the play occurs. The electronic humanoids, which mostly look scared and apprehensive, serve as intermediary between the God-like voiceover of Foreman and the raging unconscious of the actors and props on the set.
Mostly though, despite the added presence of film and three different kinds of donkeys, “Zomboid!” is less energetic and engaging than previous works. However, “Zomboid!” is certainly more ambitious. “The Gods Are Pounding On My Head” was entertaining because it was all out crazy with no holds barred. It was an attempt to define the work routine of everyday life by means of the work routine of a playwright and his actors. “Zomboid!” on the contrary attempts to use work to define its absence—a mental void.
While not always successful in this cause, “Zomboid!” leaves the audience questioning these spaces in their own lives. A donkey as portrayed on stage is a workhorse, something that transports material from place to place. In between the happenings of our lives we wander “zomboid” through the world and our own minds; and it is often in the otherwise meaningless ass that we find our salvation. Robert Bresson’s “Au Hasard Balthasar” comes to mind.