George Bataille's Bathrobe
nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 8, 2009
Well into Richard Foreman's piece, George Bataille's Bathrobe, there is an exchange between characters: "Nobody understands you.""Everybody can! Just say, 'Yes I understand.'"One could surmise that Foreman is poking fun at himself. A Richard Foreman play sets the audience on the edge of a precarious cliff, forcing them to scramble to find meaning in his jumble of words and witty phrasing. George Bataille's Bathrobe is no different—it provides the same exhilarating experience. Gemini CollisionWorks presents the play's American and English-language premiere at the Brick (previously it only played in Europe, performed in French), and the audience is fortunate for their involvement: their deft staging makes it feel as if Foreman himself is at the helm.
George Bataille's Bathrobe takes place in the prison cell of a writer, Frank Norris (its location and his reason for being there are unknown). The 70-minute show pulls us through a whirlwind of "vignettes"and absurd hilarity, introducing us to an array of colorful characters. It seems that we are delving into Norris's mind as he tries to decipher a book he is writing.
We seem to be trapped with Norris in the "prison"of his own mind, where he is forced to replay events again and again, perhaps drawing from his own memories and trying to figure how things could have gone different for him in his unfulfilled life. Foreman's dialogue and the play's action seem to support this with their stream-of-consciousness feel, non-sequitur interplay, and an amazing depiction of desires both fulfilled and thwarted (however, each audience member can and will make his or her own interpretation).
The ensemble is superb, showing consistent, energetic commitment to characters that are not always rooted in traditional reality or logic. Coupled with director Ian W. Hill's taut and dynamic staging, each of their absurd characters fits as an equally important piece of the puzzle in Foreman's play and each actor carries that weight with dedication and talent.
Most impressive, though, is the production's dedication to and emulation of Foreman's unique style of theater. George Bataille's Bathrobe is a unique cacophony of sound, color, and visuals that somehow finds a way to touch its audience in ways that are never quite clear. The entire cast and design team are a credit to this.
Hill's schizophrenic lighting and offbeat combinations of sound and musical pieces work together with Karen Flood's colorful costumes to create a virtual mindscape—a world that Foreman created with his theatre form and this team keeps alive.
When referring to a dictionary, one character comments "It has no story.""Are you sure?""It's words only."This once again seems a self-referential passage by Foreman: one that captures the beauty of this play and this production. At times, Gemini CollisionWorks' staging of George Bataille's Bathrobe seems like only a sea of unrelated words. But it makes you laugh and you can't quite put your finger on why; it tugs your heartstrings and you aren't sure how; and it builds heart-pounding suspense to climaxes that aren't really there. In spite of their absurdity and detachment, Foreman's"jumble of words"and Gemini CollisionWorks' vision convey a spectrum of human fears and emotions and take the audience on a journey they will spend hours trying to decipher after leaving the Brick Theatre.