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Review of ASTRONOME by Richard Foreman and John Zorn

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ASTRONOME : A Night at the Opera
A Richard Foreman and John Zorn's music/theater collaboration

With my long-standing - since Rhoda in Potatoland - interest in the mind-twisting work of Richard Foreman and my nose for noise, I was drawn swiftly into the Foreman-Zorn music/theater alliance ASTRONOME : A Night at the Opera. Then immediately on entering the theater I silently uttered a moo of relief; intuitively observing the absence of movie screens on the set - as was the case with the prior two Foreman presentations. Enough all ready with the canned action, I remember thinking. At long last, a return to the over-the-top hysterics of actual jolting being that I have come to love and need and expect from Foreman’s theatrical recombinants.

For me Foreman means corporeal confrontations in a compact arena with bodies of bizarre outsized men and strange sensual women that require (and recompense) my complete attention. No - more than my complete attention. His work’s tremendous vibrancy typically exceeds my attention as at his more engaging performances - like Maria Del Bosco, Bad Boy Nietzsche, and Paradise Hotel (Hotel Fuck) - I am characteristically conscious of my frequent shifts in awareness, both on the horizontal axis and in depth of field. There is just so much delicious silly nastiness going on in my peripheral field-of-view to comprehend visually and theatrically. So it is as if everything in the world is integrated on stage; including my horniest of fantasies coupled with such feelings as ardent rage. Of course with Foreman there is always (happily) a predominance of bewildering punch lines conveying a wacky/tacky pathos laced with gleeful flourishes of black humor, dizzying shrewd philo-poetic tangled tangents tied to rapid cadences of concatenation (followed by washes of slowcore tenderness), a good deal of bricolage and bucolic litter penetrated by furious trance-like movements that seem lost in the tatters of time: all expressed through an incredibly precise craftsmanship that masks as improvisational sensual intimacy.

But alas, such oceans of sensual majesty are about to halt - especially the physically intimate ingredients. Richard Foreman, our leading provocateur of the imagined conundrum (our Raymond Rousel), is hanging it up as of April 5th so as to turn his creative energy to feature film. That was the tragic ending for me, to what had been a richly mercurial night of playful-sexy vaudeville revealed in the public post-show interview Foreman granted Sally Oswald.

What awaits ahead for a fan like me, I fear, is the coldly concerted activity of downloading and watching Foreman films of canned encounters on a 2x3 inch screen on my ipod – as I am rather skeptical that his films will enjoy commercial movie-house presentation. (*) Though that would be nice as an augmentation to his actual theatrical presentations, I think I will miss the animal in me engaged when confronted with one sort of conspicuously excessive encounter or another in which the affirmation of the other keeps appearing and disappearing in a play of meaty maneuvers (or mechanisms) destined to avert my gratification. Oh well.

I will remember all the more fondly then how the recorded music of John Zorn (The Moonchild Trio) lent itself well to ASTRONOME : A Night at the Opera as the glossolalia-like vocal theatrics of Michael Allan Patton (reminiscent of Diamanda Galas) - mixed with hardcore pastiche (reminiscent of the Butthole Surfers).

It was wonderful how that choppy music being played over the top of Forman’s elaborately constructed mystical exploits (just as there was no opera here, there was no real collaboration between Zorn and Foreman) enforced in me the creation of regressive memories of my simultaneously dabbling in punk and the occult. Such reminiscents began prolonging my current inner hysteria into an infernal eternity through the construction of noise as cliché. In that sense, the reoccurring message of “raising the dead” that was intoned actually transpired. Dead memories from my youth came to the surface of my consciousness and flooded my mind. And I felt the pangs of loss. But have I failed to mention the enormous nose and the hanging Medusa?

Joseph Nechvatal

Limited run from February 5 to April 5 2009 at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village
I viewed the February 17th performance that was followed by an interview of Richard Foreman by Sally Oswald (Paper Theater and Play a Journal of Plays).

ASTRONOME : A Night at the Opera
Directed and designed by Richard Foreman; music by John Zorn; lighting by Mr. Foreman; technical director, Peter Ksander; stage manager, Brendan Regimbal. Presented by the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, Mr. Foreman, artistic director; Shannon Sindelar, managing director. At the Ontological-Hysteric Theater at St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, East Village; (212) 352-3101. Through April 5. Running time: 1 hour.
WITH: Deborah Wallace (Woman in All Black), Morgan von Prelle Pecelli (Woman in Fez), Fulya Peker (Woman in White Blouse), Karl Allen (Man in Striped Hat), Eric Magnus (Man in Fez), Benjamin Forster (Man in White Blouse) and Jamie Peterson (Man in Green Face).

The Moonchild is formed by: Joey Baron (drums), Mike Patton (voice), Trevor Dunn (bass), John Zorn (producer, conductor, and composer)

John Zorn (The Moonchild Trio) - Astronome [2006]
01.act one: a secluded clearing in the woods; a single bed in a small room; the innermost chapel of a secret temple
02.act two: a medieval laboratory; in the magick circle
03.act three: a barren plain at midnight; an unnamed location

(*) See, for example, Strong Medicine 1981:

My other takes on Richard Foreman's plays:


The Gods Are Pounding My Head! (AKA Lumberjack Messiah)

Maria Del Bosco (Sex and Racing Cars: A Sound Opera)

All Photos: © Paula Court



Photos: © Paula Court

Idiot Savant

Dear Joseph
Thanks for the very kind comments--

But rest assured (a little) if you missed the statement in the program that
while I AM in the process of re-focusing my efforts on film-- there will be
at LEAST one more theater piece, when I do my play "Idiot Savant" next fall
staring Willem Dafoe.

Who ever knows exactly what the future holds. . .

Yours truly
Richard Foreman