Idiot Savant

Richard Foreman's no dummy.

  • WHOLLY FOOL Dafoe is no dummy.

WHOLLY FOOL Dafoe is no dummy.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Having seen 16 Richard Foreman plays over the years (and, full disclosure, appeared in his Pearls for Pigs), I should have many clever, original insights into this dazzling stage auteur. Are you ready? He often writes about food, animals and body parts. String and letters decorate the stage. He shines bright light at the audience. Ominous voice-overs. Dozens of sound loops. Sorry, none of this is news if you’ve seen a Foreman work; you know what to expect. And yet! Each year is a burst of rediscovery, as you enter the singularly alert yet trancelike state that his reverberation machines inspire. Idiot Savant is vintage Foreman: ravishing, perplexing, scary, a sensual and intellectual massage for those weary of causality and psychology.

The obvious difference with Idiot Savant is cast and venue. Most Foreman shows open at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church. The ampler dimensions of the Public’s Martinson Hall allow us to savor the director-designer’s set, a sort of belle epoque drawing room with large numbers pasted on doors and rows of defaced portraits of August Strindberg on the walls. Also, the actors are no longer groups of silent drones—as in the last three years of multimedia hybrids. Willem Dafoe takes center stage in the title role, fully exploiting decades with the Wooster Group to endow his cryptic pronouncements and slapstick with pathos and visceral intensity. Knowing and sexy Elina Lwensohn and Alenka Kraigher alternately tempt and thwart Dafoe as a gypsy and a princess, respectively. Foreman’s language—highly compressed and suggestive, if superficially banal—comes alive in these superb actors’ voices (intimately picked up by head mikes). You realize how much you’ve missed him working with trained, charismatic performers. (T. Ryder Smith and Jay Smith were just as brilliant in his works from ’04 and ’05.)

If indeed Idiot Savant is Foreman’s swan song—as he routinely threatens—we should consider ourselves warned: There’s a giant duck, waddling on for a brief game of golf. “Arrogant bastard people. Goodbye forever,” goes the duck’s exit line (via voice-over); perhaps he will continue his round, offstage, in retirement. Thus does an iconoclastic genius signal his own departure after 41 years of revolutionizing theater: flipping us the bird.—David Cote

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Public Theater. Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman. With Willem Dafoe, Alenka Kraigher, Elina Lwensohn. 1hr 20mins. No intermission.