There is no experience quite like a Richard Foreman show--except, perhaps, another Richard Foreman show. Reflective glass partitions allow you to watch both the onstage action and the audience response. Lengths of string and other objects don't actually obstruct sightlines but do alter the way in which the production is viewed. Foreman's actors are amplified by microphones, and loud noises and dizzying lighting changes interrupt the play at perfectly calculated but seemingly random moments. On top of all this, the downtown auteur often may be found among the audience at his shows.
When I saw his latest production, Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty, Foreman sat two seats away from me. This, in itself, was an interesting experience; I watched as he subtly cued the performers with a nod of his head, gestured towards the lighting booth, and scribbled notes onto a sheet of paper. In fact, sometimes it was more fascinating to observe the writer/director/designer than the actors onstage. But I mean this as no disrespect to the two stars of the show, Jay Smith as Fred and Tony Torn as Freddie. Torn, in particular, has a remarkable stage presence and command of voice and body that is essential in a Foreman work. Smith is not quite as adept, tending to sound slightly constipated as he growls his lines into a microphone.
Stylistically, Foreman is not treading any new ground. While his work is a radical departure from anything else you might see in New York, it is remarkably similar to Foreman's own previous works of the last few years, such as Bad Boy Nietzsche!, Benita Canova, and Permanent Brain Damage. Thematically, Communism does appear more overtly political--despite the author's claim in the program that "This is, obviously, not a play of political analysis." A booming voiceover announces: "Red Communism is dead, my friends." Later on, Fred thanks God for this, saying that communism was "a system which treated human beings like dogs." The statement is obviously loaded with irony, and should not be taken at face value. It does, however, provide a recurring theme for the play, which is filled with references to dogs that are either confined, dangerous, killed, or all of the above.
The two central characters with very similar names are aging hipsters, struggling to find meaning in the post-communist era. But such discovery proves elusive in Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty--both for the characters and the audience members, who tend to walk out of the theater with quizzical expressions on their faces.