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Avant-garde playwright Richard Foreman’s latest work is “a typically audacious, surreal extravaganza that will either delight or baffle theatergoers,” said Frank Scheck in the New York Post. More often than not, Idiot Savant does both simultaneously. Known for his absurdist metaphysical explorations of “the nature of art and language,” Foreman returns again to familiar territory, offering up a funhouse theatrical universe full of strings, buzzers, bells, crystal chandeliers, and a giant duck that plays golf. You either go along with his odd visions or you don’t. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a truly “no holds barred” performance by actor Willem Dafoe, who once honed his chops with the legendary experimental theater troupe the Wooster Group and obviously feels comfortable in this esoteric territory.
As the title character, Dafoe “raises the humor and humanity to heights rarely felt in a Foreman work,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. Looking like a mad samurai, with his hair pulled up in a topknot, Dafoe reaches into a grab bag of histrionic styles, trying on and discarding each with masterful ease. One moment, he exhibits a “drooling imbecility,” reminiscent of Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, the next he’s displaying a “vaudevillian brusqueness” that’s all Jimmy Durante. As he struggles to find his role in Foreman’s hermetically self-contained (and self-referential) theatrical reality, the Idiot is instructed by an offstage voice not to act, but to let the “play slowly creep over the stage.” Audiences might apply that same advice to their experience of Idiot Savant.
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