Thursday, November 5, 2009

Idiot Savant


Don't even bother trying to make sense of a Richard Foreman production. For decades, the famed avant-garde director-playwright has proceeded totally by impulse to create silly, surreal, purely theatrical spectacles based in movement, light and sound instead of traditional storytelling. You simply can't figure out his shows by using your brain.

Foreman, who is now 72 years old, has already threatened to leave the theater entirely to concentrate on film on several occasions. But new rumors suggest that "Idiot Savant," which is premiering at the Public Theater instead of his typical smaller abode above St. Mark's Church, will probably be his final show.

"Idiot Savant" has all the trappings of a typical Foreman production: strings extending into the audience, harsh bright lights, ominous voice-overs, slow motion and chorus members who never speak and move around like puppets. Its numerous props include an oversized golf ball, a duck mask, a duck in a cage, a white spider with spots, two imitation row boats, and a tray of fruit.

It's impossible to determine what exactly is going on based on the show itself. But in recent interviews, Foreman has described "Idiot Savant" as a philosophic comedy in which the mystical Idiot Savant (played by Willem Dafoe) contemplates the power of language and parodies how people think. For some inexplicable reason, there is also a "Giant Duck" with bloody palms who plays interspecies golf.

Dafoe, wearing a dress and sporting a Samurai-style hairdo, fits in perfectly with Foreman's dark and eccentric atmosphere. His female companions, Alenka Kraigher and Elina Löwensohn, look contemplative but lack Dafoe's striking stage presence.

If not much else, "Idiot Savant" offers a final opportunity to experience the experimental weirdness of a Richard Foreman show. Though his silliness can occasionally be entertaining, don't expect to understand any of it. Think of it a distinctive, intense, offbeat avant-garde experience. If you're lucky, maybe you'll find some meaning hidden somewhere in this 80-minute circus.

Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555, publictheater.org. Through Dec. 13.

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