ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Old-fashioned Prostitutes (a True Romance)
By Elyse Sommer
And now the acclaimed, but also frequently disdained, abstractionist has returned with another post- theatrical retirement work, Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A Romance. It's again staged at the Public Theater with Mr. F. in full charge, doing triple duty as writer, director and designer.
As it was four years ago, the Martinson stage has been transformed into a constantly evolving crazy quilt that includes a candelabra, a mini windmill, DNA number and letter sequences, bunches of flowers,framed black and white photographs (you'll only be able to see who's in them in a center section seat). It's a weird but wonderful assemblage that would be as at home in an art gallery as a theater.
The strings stretched across the stage ceiling may be a metaphor for physicists' multi dimensional String Theory—Suggesting perhaps that Mr Foreman has stepped out of one of these dimensions,possibly Time. Foreman costumer Gabriel Berry integrates the performers into the mesmerizing overall image.
The text is made up of random phrases and bits of dialogue that pour forth more like the paint drippings in a Pollock painting than a conventional script. Unconnected as this linguistic drips may seem from the prop-laden stage everything is very much connected, which is not to say you'll have an easy time figuring out what it all means. , As the playwright once told an interviewer (Laura Winton in 2006) what started with the focus on stripped down language metamorphosed into "a sort of riffing on what the objects would suggest, the different possibilities of seeing them.
The people who've been flocking to the Public to see Old-Fashioned Prostitutes can probably be divided into three groups.
The first group represents those with a penchant for the avant-garde. They were regulars at the now closed St. Mark's Church theater in the Bowery and embraced Forman as the rightful heir to the likes of Beckett and Pirandello. Curtainup's Les Gutman, who's been our Foreman expert over the years, falls into this category and has always been more of a Foreman enthusiast than
The second group comprises those who've heard about Foreman but managed to miss seeing any of the more than 50 plays he's created. While they tend to spend their time and money on traditional and easier to enjoy theatrical fare they are curious to see what all the fuss is about. After all the man's many awards include a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, the PEN Club Master American Dramatist Award, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts for "Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre as well as several Obie awards.
There's also a third group. These are theater goers who've seen one Foreman play and found it disorienting, incomprehensible and just plain annoying enough to walk out before the ending. But with time their tastes have matured and become more flexible, and with it a willingness to ha ve another go at getting Foreman.
Love him or leave him, Richard Foreman doesn't just have a unique theatrical voice but a true showman's instincts. Old-Fashioned Prostitutes has enough going on in the way the performers interact and make use of detritus on stage to keep anyone from being bored, if not from being puzzled.
True to the playwright's own comment quoted at the top of this review, what all his plays are ultimately about are Richard Foreman. And Prostitutes is perhaps more biographical than ever since the lead performer, Rocco Sisto, spends most of the 65 minutes as a man named Samuel who seems a stand-in for the playwright ruminating in a monotonous almost disembodied voice on the ephemeral nature of existence. This is borne out by his eventually merging with one Rainer Thompson, the title character of Foreman's 2012 film My Name Is Rainer Thompson and I've Lost It Completely which was billed as a biography.
Sisto and the other four performers are in tune with capturing the author's style of expression and being not so much characters in a story, as talking and moving figures within an artist's canvas. Alenka Kraigher (who also appeared in Idiot Savant) is the gorgous coquette who interjects herself into the landscape of Samuel's mind. Suzi and her twin coquette, Gabriella (Stephanie Hayes) represent Formanesque at its most diverting. With their repeated chants of "Whee!" this duo sometimes brings to mind the eerie witches in Macbeth.
I can't say that I was as smitten with Old-Fashoned Prostitutes as my colleague Les would have been had he been free to go. I did find myself chuckling quite a few times. However, the assault on the senses does gets repetitious and irritating at times. The one character's repeated shouts of "hold it" might be taken as camera cues but alsoas advice to hold it on coming to conclusions about whether to dig for deep, la sting meanings rather than just sit back and and let yourself burst out laughing at some of the often unfathomable but somehow hilarious ramblings.
A caveat: Foreman's habit of flashing a barrage of harsh lights at the audience may actually be harmful to sensitiv eyes. Anyone who's recently had some type of eye procedure would be wise to stay home.
Links to previous Foreman plays reviewed at Curtainup
The Gods Are Pounding in My Head
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Univers
Bad Boy Nietzsche
Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty
Maria del Bosco