Foreman, Richard 1937-
FOREMAN, Richard 1937-
PERSONAL: Born June 10, 1937, in New York, NY; son of Albert (an attorney) and Claire (Levine) Foreman; married Amy Taubin, 1961 (divorced, 1972); married Kate Manheim (an actress), 1988. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Brown University, B.A. (magna cum laude), 1959; Yale University, M.F.A., 1962. Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—152 Wooster St., New York, NY 10012; fax: 212-780-9578. Agent—Artservices, 260 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013.
CAREER: Actors Studio, New York, NY, member of playwrights' unit, 1962-68; Ontological-Hysteric Theater (nonprofit institution), New York, NY, founder and director, 1968—. Artistic director in Paris, France, 1973-85; New York Shakespeare Festival, director in residence, 1975-76; director of Three-Penny Opera at Lincoln Center, 1976, Moliere's Don Juan in Minneapolis, MN, at Tyrone Guthrie Theater, 1981, Strauss's Die Fledermaus, at the Paris Opera, 1983, Suzan Lori-Parks's Venus, in New Haven, CT, at the Yale Repertory Theater, 1996, the Brecht/Weill play Mahagonny, in France, at Lille Opera, 1998, and more than forty other plays and operas. National Endowment for the Arts, member of theater division panel, 1976-79; Anthology Film Archives, member of board of directors, 1976-84.
MEMBER: Dramatists Guild, Authors League of America, PEN, Society of Stage Directors, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Nine Obie Awards, Village Voice, including 1970, for Elephant Steps; 1973, for work with Ontological-Hysteric Theater; 1976, for Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts); 1986, for directing Largo Desolato; 1987, for The Cure and Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good; and 1988, for lifetime achievement; Creative Artists Public Service fellowship, New York State Arts Council, 1971; Guggenheim playwriting fellowships, 1972, 1975; Rockefeller Foundation grant, 1974; Ford Foundation grant, 1990, for Eddie Goes to Poetry City; fellow of National Endowment for the Arts, 1990, 1992, 1995; award in literature, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, 1992; honorary doctorate, Brown University, 1993; MacArthur fellowship, 1995-2000; Edwin Booth Award for Theatrical Achievement, 1996; PEN/Laura Pels Master American Playwright Award, 2001; Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters (France), 2004.
Plays and Manifestos of Richard Foreman, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1976.
Reverberation Machines: Later Plays and Essays, Station Hill, 1985.
Love and Science: Selected Librettos by Richard Foreman, TCG Publishers, 1991.
Unbalancing Acts: Essays and Plays by Richard Foreman, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1992.
My Head Was a Sledgehammer and Other Plays, Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1995.
No-Body (novel), Overlook Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Paradise Hotel: And Other Plays, Overlook Press, 2000.
Bad Boy Nietzsche! And Other Plays (includes Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty, Maria Del Bosco, Panic! (How to Be Happy), Bad Boy Nietzsche, and King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe) Theatre Communications Group (New York, NY), 2005.
plays; and director
Angelface, first produced in New York, NY, at Cinematheque, April, 1968.
Elephant Steps, music by Stanley Silverman, first produced in Lenox, MA, at Tanglewood, July, 1968.
Ida-Eyed, first produced in New York, NY, at New Dramatists Workshop, May, 1969.
Total Recall (Sophia-[Wisdom]: Part II), first produced in New York, NY, at Cinematheque, December, 1970.
Dream Tantras for Western Massachusetts, first produced in Lenox, MA, at Lenox Arts Center, August, 1971.
Hotel China, first produced in New York, NY, at Cinematheque, December, 1971.
Evidence, first produced in New York, NY, at Theater for the New City, April, 1972.
Dr. Selavy's Magic Theater, music by Silverman, first produced in Lenox, MA, at Lenox Arts Center, July, 1972.
Sophia-[Wisdom]: Part III—The Cliffs, first produced in New York, NY, at Cinematheque, December, 1972.
Particle Theory, first produced in New York, NY, at Theater for the New City, April, 1973.
Daily Life, first produced (in part) in New York, NY, at Cubiculo Theater, May, 1973.
Classical Therapy; or, A Week under the Influence, first produced in Paris, France, at Festival d' Automne, September, 1973.
Vertical Mobility (Sophia-[Wisdom]: Part IV), first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, April, 1974.
Sophia-[Wisdom]: Part I, first produced in New York, NY, at Theater for the New City, November, 1974.
Pain(T), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1974.
Hotels for Criminals, first produced in New York, NY, at Exchange Theater, January, 1975.
Pandering to the Masses: A Misrepresentation, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, January, 1975.
Out of the Body Travel, first produced in New London, CT, at American Dance Festival, July, 1975.
Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts), first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, December, 1975.
Livre des splendeurs, first produced in Paris, France, at Festival d' Automne, October, 1976.
Book of Splendours: Part II (Book of Levers) Action at a Distance, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, January, 1977.
Blv'd de Paris: I've Got the Shakes, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, December, 1977.
Madness and Tranquillity (My Head Was a Sledgehammer), first produced in New York, January, 1979.
Luogo + Bersaglio (title means "Place plus Target"), first produced in Rome, Italy, at Teatro di Roma, December, 1979.
Penguin Touquet, first produced in New York, NY, at Public Theater, January, 1981.
Cafe amerique, first produced in Paris, France, at Festival d' Automne, October, 1981.
Egyptology (My Head Was a Sledgehammer), first produced in New York, NY, at The Other Stage, May, 1983.
American Imagination, produced in New York, NY, by Music Theater Group, 1983.
George Bataille's Bathrobe, produced in Paris, France, at Festival d' Automne, 1983.
Miss Universal Happiness, first produced off-Broadway at the Performing Garage, May, 1985.
Africanus-Instructus, music by Silverman, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, January, 1986.
The Cure, produced off-Broadway at the Performing Garage, May, 1986.
Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1987.
Symphony of Rats, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, January, 1988.
What Did He See? first produced in New York, NY, at Public Theater, October, 1988.
Lava, first produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, December, 1989.
Love and Science, produced in New York, NY, by Music Theater Group, 1990.
Eddie Goes to Poetry City, Part 1, produced in Seattle, WA, at New City Theater, 1990.
Eddie Goes to Poetry City, Part 2, produced in New York, NY, at La Mama Experimental Theater Club, 1991.
The Mind King, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1992.
Samuel's Major Problems, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1993.
My Head Was a Sledgehammer, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1994.
I've Got the Shakes, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1995.
The Universe, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1996.
Permanent Brain Damage, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1996.
Pearls for Pigs, produced by Hartford Stage Company and International Productions Associates, 1997.
Benita Canova, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1997.
Paradise Hotel, produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1998.
Bad Boy Nietzsche (also see above), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 2000.
Now That Communism Is Dead, My Life Feels Empty (also see above), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 2001.
Maria Del Bosco (also see above), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 2002.
Panic! (How to Be Happy) (also see above), produced in Vienna, Austria, 2003.
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe (also see above), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 2004.
The Gods Are Pounding My Head! (A.K.A. Lumberjack Messiah), produced in New York, NY, at Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 2005.
Also author of unproduced and unpublished plays, including Rhoda—Returning, 1969, Maudlin Notations, 1970, Forest: Depth, 1970, Two Vacations, 1970, Holy Moly, 1970, Lines of Vision, 1970, Op/Ra: An Isomorphic Representation of the Gradual Dismemberment from Within of Western Art in Which a New Unity That of Consciousness Itself Emerges, 1972, Africa, 1972, The Rem(ark)able Cabin-Cruiser: Depth, 1972, InspirationalAnalysis, 1973, Walled Garden (Language), 1973, Life of the Bee (I've Goet der Shakes), 1973, Seance, 1975, End of a Beautiful Friendship, 1975, and Radiant City, 1975.
Real Magic in New York (concert), first produced in New York, NY, at Cinematheque, May, 1970.
City Archives (video play), Walker Art Center, 1977.
(Contributor) The Theatre of Images, Drama Book Specialists, 1977.
(And director) Strong Medicine (screenplay), music by Silverman, Ontological-Hysteric Theater, 1978, released by August Films, 1979.
(And director) Madame Adare (opera), music by Silverman, first produced in New York, NY, at Lincoln Center, October, 1980.
(And director) Total Rain (television play), broadcast by WGBH-TV, Boston, MA, and WNET-TV, New York, NY, 1990.
Foreman's papers are housed in the Fales Collection of New York University's Bobst Library.
SIDELIGHTS: "I have always conceived of my theater as being a kind of mental and intellectual sensory gym … where I would work out the kinks of my perceptual apparatus," says avant-garde playwright and director Richard Foreman in a New York Times interview with Diane Solway. "I'm interested in trying to find ways to make physical the various abstractions that one's imagination spins and projects. If a painter is trying to paint 'treeness,' what he paints may not look like a tree, because he's trying to embody the kind of energy that gives birth to a tree. I'm trying to do something similar in the theater." Because of Foreman's efforts to capture his own personal vision on the stage, his plays may at first seem confusing to audiences unfamiliar with his work. Dropping all the usual conventions of plot, setting, characterization, and dialogue, the playwright recreates for the stage his thought processes about death, the search for identity, and the struggle for order in a world ruled by randomness. Despite the abstruseness of his work, New York Times critic Don Shewey asserts that "Mr. Foreman's plays are not meant to be obscure. His peculiar staging techniques represent in specific physical terms the philosophical and extremely personal themes that run through his plays." Shewey later notes that "the very strangeness of the work, the fact that it doesn't look like any other kind of theater, often makes it entertaining, comical, and surprisingly moving."
Foreman considers the works of Gertrude Stein and Bertold Brecht to have been an early influence on him, but what really affected his concept of what theater should be were the underground films of the 1960s, especially those made by Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas, and Yvonne Rainer. In order to duplicate the artistic freedom of these filmmakers for the stage, Foreman founded the Ontological-Hysteric Theater company in New York, NY in 1968. The name of the troupe initially discouraged people from attending the playwright's first plays, but the few critics who did see Foreman's work were fascinated, albeit confused. "I can't explain this work … because I don't know what the hell was going on," writes Harold C. Schonbergina New York Times review of Elephant Steps. "But I know one thing. Nobody was bored…. [In] its crazy way 'Elephant Steps' keeps moving along, and the electricism, the wonderful irreverence of the music, provides a perfect commentary. In this work, surrealism lives." Elephant Steps won Foreman his first Obie Award. He would later earn eight more, including ones for Rhoda in Potatoland (Her Fall-Starts) and Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good, as well as one for his work for the Ontological-Hysteric Theater.
Other plays that have garnered critical praise for Foreman include Dream Tantras for Western Massachusetts, Dr. Selavey's Magic Theater, and Hotels for Criminals. As in his other works, these plays employ such techniques as bizarre, seemingly incongruous stage props, sudden electronic noises that interrupt the soundtrack, and ever-changing sets with sliding panels and the playwright's trademark framework of strings. Another now familiar element in Foreman's plays is the character of Rhoda, the author's "archetypal heroine" who is typically "an innocent entrapped by the decadent," according to New York Times contributor Mel Gussow. Through the character of Rhoda and others like her, Foreman provides himself with a voice for his thoughts. In this way, explains Shewey, "the actors do not so much play characters as embody states of mind."
As his career progressed, however, Foreman's plays have become less intellectual and more emotional. A major reason for this evolution is the playwright's relationship with Kate Manheim, who has played Rhoda and other major Foreman characters in many of his works. Manheim, a German actress who immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, is a fan of old television shows such as I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, and she felt some of this type of levity would be good for Foreman's plays. After acting in Foreman's plays for a number of years, doing "everything I was told," as she tells Drama Review interviewer Richard Schechner, she began to suggest changes in Foreman's plays such as adding more humor and increasing the pace of action.
Manheim's influence is readily apparent in Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good. Foreman tells Schechner in the same Drama Review issue that "a good 30 percent of the play was added [in rehearsal], mostly because [of] Kate." This was an unprecedented move for the director, who before Film Is Evil always exercised absolute control over the dialogue and action of his plays. Reviews of the play were very positive, and Downtown critic David Kaufman feels that Film Is Evil "suggests that some artistic growth is taking place for the first time in years." It "is a departure for Foreman and an event in his career," Kaufman later adds, "because for the first time he seems willing to make a statement beyond demonstrating that incoherence is the best we can hope for. The statement is the equivalent of the moral that is encapsulated in the title." Christian Science Monitor reviewer David Sterritt also believes that Film Is Evil shows Foreman "at his most complex and provocative, and also at his most obsessive."
Another influence on the playwright has been his age. "I've been purposely trying to make some connection with something as my death approaches," he tells Shewey, "and I think it's racing toward me. I've done the work of learning the grammar, and I want to show people that it's not just a perverse, irrelevant, dadaistic grammar, but a language that can speak clearly about all the things that touch us most profoundly." Despite his continuing "enigmatic quest for self-definition" that Gussow still observes as a presence in Foreman's 1989 play Lava, it has never been the author's goal to frustrate and confound his audience. Foreman tells Solway: "People think, 'Oh, my God, we're going to see a Foreman play; it's going to be hard to understand, and we'd better sit there thinking all night.' That's not what I want at all. I want people to have fun, because I certainly have fun playing with implications and residues of ideas and all the stuff that's in the air."
Foreman has continued to write and stage plays at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at the rate of roughly one a year. One of the most widely reviewed works of the 1990s is Paradise Hotel, which Roger Copeland in American Theatre described as a play in which "a motley assortment of misfits and exotics all become fixated on the idea that if only they can find their way to the mythical Paradise Hotel, they will enter a state of perpetual orgasm more fulfilling than anything dreamt of by the Marquis de Sade." Speaking of a concluding scene featuring a character named "Tony Turbo, wearing only black dinner gloves and a feathered headress," Charles McNulty concluded in Variety that "it's the perfect note to end Foreman's tragicomic inquiry into the unassuageable part of ourselves that makes us, for better or worse, human." Paradise Hotel was later published in a collection with some of Foreman's other works.
A few years after Paradise Hotel, Foreman brought his Bad Boy Nietzsche to the stage. According to David Yaffeinthe Nation, this presentation features the German philosopher who spent the last period of his life insane "after admittance to the asylum … forced to relieve his traumatic encounter with the horse, first as tragedy, then as farce. The Cruel Man, The Child and The Beautiful Woman all attend on him as he finally throws his manuscripts in the air to attempt to enter the Foremanian sexual carnival, taunted by bare breasts and giant phallic props."
In addition to his prolific work for the theater, Foreman has also penned a novel, 1996's No-Body. The book is about a man who is trying to be a poet in contemporary American society, but includes storytelling personas such as The Suburbanite, Eddie the Mind King, and The Amateur Genius. Critical consensus felt that Foreman's novel was much like his plays in its abstract style.
Foreman once told CA: "In the plays I write, there is no 'story' in the normal sense, but there is definitely a situation. There is no story, because impulse is set free to deflect normal linear development. Linear, narrative development in the theater always ends with a denouement which delivers a 'meaning'; that is, a moral: perform in such and such a way, and such and such are the results. This kind of a narrative, this kind of logically arrived at 'moral' conclusion, is in fact a way of reinforcing the spectators' behavioral conditioning—conditioning provided by the world which exists, as we have been conditioned to perceive it, by physical reality, society, inherited psychological patterns, etc.
"Such a world disciplines, orders, and imprisons a wide and potentially fruitful range of human impulses toward diversity and invention. My theater is a theater of situation and impulse. To the extent that impulse is policed and suppressed (by society or by the superego) we suffocate. Ah—do I propose that a good society (or a good way to live one's personal life) is to let impulse run free? No, I do not. I do, however, propose that the most desirable human condition is that where one is able to avoid stasis—spiritual and emotional stasis—by continually subjecting oneself to the non-static 'unbalanced' state in which impulse is continually permitted to introduce a creative 'wobble' to the straight and narrow of 'well-disciplined' mental life.
"Impulse, of course, need not just mean hitting someone on the nose. It may also mean reaching for an unsettling idea, or letting words surface from the unconscious. The point is: art is the place to allow this, which cannot really happen in life, to happen in its full, rich, radiant, abundant glory. Here is the most important part: in my plays, the manifestations of impulse are not just narrated—but rather the same impulse that pushes the characters into 'acting out' also twists and controls the artistic structure, so that the form and sequencing of the play itself reflects that impulsive, usually suppressed, energy of the human mental/emotional apparatus. It is that isomorphic relationship between form and content that often perplexes people about contemporary art.
"Why not—for easier comprehensibility—show characters acting impulsively within a normal narrative structure? But of course, that happens all the time in drama and film and the novel. But there now exist a large group of so-called 'difficult' or transgressive artists who believe that such a strategy no longer suffices to introduce powerful and effective 'impulse' therapy to audiences desperately trying to control their own impulsive tendencies—for fear they will interfere with their ability to lead efficient lives in the industrialized world's highly organized and demanding society. So art work that presents impulsive behavior within a normal narrative allows the spectator to maintain control, as it were—god-like in his/her ability to set the 'other' of disruptive impulse within the safe prison of moral-delivering 'meaningful' narrative. But narrative and meaning themselves churned up and fragmented by impulse—hopefully—provide the spectator with a 'disorientation massage' that perhaps brings him/her back into contact with a deep part of our mutual human self.
"One might object, 'But what you propose sounds like a recipe for anything goes, so why are we not to believe the results may as well be nonsense rather than the therapeutic aesthetic you describe?' Ah, well, history I suppose will decide. (Does it always tell the truth?) It is as difficult, finally, to justify one's art to someone who has no taste for it as it is to justify one's choice of a beloved to those who 'can't see what he sees in such an uninteresting person!' I can only assure you that 'anything goes' is as far from our procedure in the theater as one can imagine. This includes ten weeks of maddeningly slow and deliberate rehearsals, changing and changing everything dozens of times until each 'irrational' cell seems to me to have a coherence within the overall structure that is as firmly in place as a successful string quartet. Believe it or not, lucidity is my overriding concern—lucidity in the framing and ordering of each impulsive and disruptive moment of dialogue and action until, for me at least, this so-called impenetrable piece of theater sparkles like a diamond."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cole, Susan, Directors in Rehearsal, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1992.
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 50, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Davy, Kate, Richard Foreman and the Ontological Hysteric Theater, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981.
American Theatre, September, 1999, Roger Copeland, "Foreman in Paradise," p. 56; March, 2002, review of The Gods Are Pounding My Head! (A.K.A.Lumberjack Messiah), p. 71; April, 2005, Young Jean Lee, interview with Foreman and review of The Gods Are Pounding My Head! (A.K.A. Lumberjack Messiah), p. 35.
Art in America, July, 1999, Raphael Rubinstein, "A Hotel by Any Other Name," p. 44.
Back Stage, February 27, 1998, Erick Grode, review of Benita Canova, p. 43; March 31, 2005, Ron Cohen, review of The Gods Are Pounding My Head! (A.K.A. Lumberjack Messiah), p. 43.
Back Stage West, August 30, 2001, Hoyt Hilsman, review of Lava, p. 10.
Christian Science Monitor, June 1, 1987.
Downtown, May 20, 1987.
Drama Review, winter, 1987.
Nation, March 13, 2000, David Yaffe, "Dionysian Man," p. 32.
New York Native, June 16, 1986.
New York Post, May 6, 1987.
New York Times, April 25, 1970; February 2, 1981; November 25, 1981; May 15, 1983; May 18, 1983; May 30, 1985; January 3, 1986; January 26, 1986; May 28, 1986; May 5, 1987; January 3, 1988; January 12, 1988; October 19, 1988; December 13, 1989.
Soho Arts Weekly, June 18, 1986.
Variety, January 25, 1999, Charles McNulty, review of Paradise Hotel, p. 84.
Villager, June 5, 1986.
Village Voice, June 3, 1986.
Ontological-Hysteric Theater Web site, http://www.ontological.com/ (May 5, 2003), "Richard Foreman."*