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A CurtainUp Review
Idiot Savant

All things are yet thinkable inside a powerful mind,
which does express itself eventually in apparent babble,
non translatable into known languages,
thank goodness for that—OK?

—Idiot Savant
Willem Dafoe
W. Dafoe and Company
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The tell-tale signs of a Richard Foreman show are very much in evidence at the Public Theater. It's the first time in years that a Foreman production has been staged in New York other than at his Ontological-Hysteric Theater's soon-to-be former home a few blocks away, but the prop-laden crazy quilt of a set, set behind a guard rail and featuring yards of striped string spanning the stage at oblique angles, makes one feel, oddly enough, comfortable.

This offering from the maestro of the avant garde at times actually feels a bit less avant than some, and yet it also poses some extreme questions that are also perhaps more ontological than we've seen in the last several Foreman outings. Its focus — and heaven help anyone who has the temerity to use that word in connection with Foreman's work —- seems to be on a sort of collision between existential phenomenology and lingusitics. We hear a great deal about words, their meaning or lack thereof, contemplated against the significance of devices that prevent words from being spoken — a tube in the mouth, or a piece of tape across it. Not surprisingly, this meditation doesn't last for long. Before we know it, Foreman has wandered into purer existential terrain, under the guise of a contemplation of the stability afforded by a table vis-a-vis the relative benefits and detriments of a tripod. These dilemmas also subside, however, and we end up in the company of an over-sized duck and a game of golf. Welcome to the world of Richard Foreman.

There's much more going on here, of course. Foreman's script is as chock full of meaningful detritus as that set is with bric-a-brac. And if you allow yourself the luxury of learning a little something from all you hear, you'll let it filter into your consciousness without the usual over-thinking.

The small principal cast of Idiot Savant features two excellent women, the Slovenian-trained Alenka Kraigher and a returnee from a past Foreman show, Elina Löwensohn. But the big news here is Foreman's reunion with the estimable Willem Dafoe (they worked together when Foreman directed at The Wooster Group years ago) as the title character. There is a fourth character that figures prominently, but is not seen — a "voice" commanding the characters as if a god, and the actors as if a director. "Do not try to carry this play forward. Let it slowly creep over the stage with no help, with no end in view," he tells them.

Dafoe is a power plant of an actor, inhabiting the Idiot fearlessly and palpably relishing the character Foreman has created for him. Endlessly compelling, he yelps that which he knows, and confronts with some anguish what the "voice" imparts. The match-up with the two women is exceptional. Kraigher's Marie is a regal yet vulnerable and naive foil for the Idiot. Löwensohn's Olga is the fly in the ointment.

The designers with whom Foreman has partnered for this production do well navigating his weird world of half-off costumes, flashing lights and buzzers. Gabriel Berry has dressed the women with particular flourish and remarkable peception.

One never quite knows what to make of a Foreman opus while it's being executed; the reward comes in realizing what's floating around in your head later. Can it be translated into a known language? Not all that effectively. Foreman has said (though not for the first time) that this is his final play. Do yourself a favor and get some of that apparent babble in your noggin.

Idiot Savant
Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman
Cast: Willem Dafoe (Idiot Savant), Alenka Kraigher (Marie), Elina Lowensohn (Olga); Joel Israel, Eric Magnus, Daniel Nelson (Servants)
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design: Heather Carson
Sound Design: Travis Just
Running Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, with no intermission
Public Theater (Martinson) in association with Foremanís Ontological-Hysteric Theater 425 Lafayette (Astor Pl/E. 4th St (212) 967-7555
Opening November 4, 2009, closing December 15, 2009
From 10/27/09; opening 11/04/09; closing 12/13/09
Tues, Sun @7, Wed-S @8, Sat --Sun @2,
Tickets: $60-70
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 10/31/09 performance
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