nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 21, 2006
About Richard Foreman's new show, Zomboid! (Film/Performance Project #1), I have very little to say, because I got very little out of it.
I was interested to see the piece because it's being billed as something new for the long-running avant-garde auteur. The press release goes so far as to say that in Zomboid! "Foreman risks all to re-invent his 38-year project of diving beneath the surface of both human behavior and theatrical technique," and then quotes Foreman (from a recent article appearing in HotReview.org) thusly:
Amongst the many possibilities of "spectator-oriented art," two seem to stand out. In one style the spectator is carried on a rollercoaster through various pre-determined emotional focal points. In the second, more meditative style, events are slowed up and relatively detached from each other so the spectator can project his or her own depths, resonating with the presented material.
Zomboid! (Film/Performance Project #1) partakes of these two strategies simultaneously, with live action of visceral involvement in counter-point to onscreen projections of a more meditative nature—the actual aesthetic "event" arising in the elusive psychic space BETWEEN these two contrasting styles."
To which, having now seen Zomboid!, I can only express great disappointment that this show looks and feels so very much like previous Foreman works that I've encountered; and frustration and dismay that the stuff playing out in "the elusive psychic space" came across only as so much noise to these eyes and ears.
All I can figure out, upon a good deal of reflection, is that Zomboid! is a study in mis/disinformation. It begins even before we're in the theatre, with staff warning us that the show would begin promptly at 8pm (and posted signs indicating that latecomers would not be seated); we were told that if we weren't in our seats by 10 minutes 'til 8 we risked losing them. However, the show didn't begin until 8:10, when a group of three audience members (whose seats had in fact been reserved for them) finally entered the theatre.
The promised reinvention proves just as bogus as the promised start time. All the familiar Foreman artifacts are on stage, including random lists of numbers and playful examples of random technology; lots and lots of horizontal lines crisscross the space. The one addition is a big screen folded across two of the stage's rear walls, on which is projected continuous footage of what looked to me like acting classes. What the filmed material has to do with the onstage action is never made clear; I was surprised, though, that this "new" element of multimedia isn't particularly integrated into the show: there's live action, and then there's video, but the two don't interface, except geometrically.
There's a big toy donkey that gets tossed about. There's a big eyeball with Hebrew letters written on it that's barely used at all. There's ritualized/synchronized movement, executed with great skill by the five-member cast. There's voiceover "narration" of words and phrases, a lot of which start with "suppose I were to postulate." Some of what occurrs in the theatre and on film is arresting, no doubt about it. But no meaning was communicated to me. None.
I looked around the room (for the house lights are never turned down). I watched the man across the aisle from me, jotting down key words from the film/soundtrack in the margins of his program ("Postulate." "Donkey." "Inevitable." "Diagnosis.") I watched the man in front of me pull out his Blackberry, I think to check the time, and then (apparently) fight the temptation to switch it on and start working/playing with it. I watched Foreman himself watching the play, clearly concentrating but betraying no emotion. I wondered: is he happy with how it's going? is he bothered by anything? I could never tell.