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Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland

Richard Foreman's latest opus reaffirms why audiences continue to find his work both dynamic and perplexing.

Joel Israel, Caitlin McDonough Thayer, and Sarah Dahlen
in Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland
(© Paula Court)
At 70 years old, Richard Foreman has honed to a fine art an experimental theater style that has deservedly won him numerous accolades. His latest opus, Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland: A Richard Foreman Theater Machine, currently performing at the Ontological Theater, doesn't break much new ground for the playwright-director-designer, but it does reaffirm why audiences continue to find his work both dynamic and perplexing.

Deep Trance Behavior presents a dreamlike collage of sounds and images, where nearly everything is viewed from a skewed angle. Gestures and phrases are repeated, lights illuminate the audience almost as often as they shine on the actors, various props are handled in both traditional and untraditional ways, and oddities such as a giant hummingbird traverse the playing area at seemingly random moments.

While the performance showcases a clear continuity in stylistic elements from his previous works, Foreman has opened up his stage environment more than usual. Gone are the plexiglass partitions that often separate audience from actors. The lengths of string that usually criss-cross the stage, purposefully bisecting the audience's view of the action, are greatly reduced; indeed, the only one to traverse the entire length of the space is towards the back, never getting in the way of seeing the live actors, although it does slightly affect the view of the films projected onto the two large screens mounted on the wall.

These films, shot in Japan and England, are the strongest element of Deep Trance Behavior. The numerous actors in the Japan sequence have an especially strong filmic presence. Speaking in heavily accented English or simply sitting still with a blank expression, they are captivating.

Of the stage actors, Fulya Peker is mesmerizing, whether standing still or performing any range of odd behaviors that Foreman has assigned to her. The remaining cast members -- Joel Israel, Caitlin McDonough Thayer, Caitlin Rucker, and Sarah Dahlen -- do fine work, although they all have instances where they don't seem to be quite as in the moment as they need to be. Since none of the performers have traditionally defined characters (they're identified in the program as "Girl in Sailor Hat," "Girl with Black Hair," etc.), the importance of their being physically and emotionally present at all times is paramount.

Deciphering a coherent meaning from a Richard Foreman piece is always difficult, and sometimes impossible. Suffice it to say, his aim is to explore the conscious and the subconscious, allowing the sounds and images with which he bombards the audience to take root in the viewer's mind as it will.