Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Old Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)" - A Different Plane of Consciousness

By Judd Hollander
Photo by Joan Marcus

The first thing one must understand when attending a Richard Foreman play is that terms such as "liner" and "sequential" often have no meaning. Such is the case with his latest work, Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance). A piece he wrote, directed and designed and which is now having its world premiere at The Public Theater. 

The show begins and ends with a mysterious voice saying "end of play." The meaning of that phrase however, is, like so many other things presented here, open to interpretation. Has an unseen play just finished moments before with a new one on stage about to begin? Or does it refer to the same play, the story being presented again and again as some type of eternal cycle?

Said story, as best as can be explained, deals with an aging man named Samuel (Rocco Sisto), who is unhappy with how his life has turned out. Looking back over the choices he made and the paths he has taken he wonders what would happened had he instead gone in a different direction. Samuel, who at times almost seems to revel in his failures the way others delight in their successes, often making his comments to two elegantly-dressed ladies of the evening - Suzie (Alenka Kraigher) and Gabriella (Stephanie Hayes). Women who exist both together in time with him as well as at different places and points in existence, though their clothes recall the 1920s. The ladies' actions often punctuated by comments from the afore-mentioned voice, or perhaps it's Samuel's own consciousness or past calling out.

This non-linear feeling continues when one looks at the different aspects of the various characters. Such as the possibility that Samuel and his friend Alfredo (David Skeist) are actually the same person at different points in their life - even though they're talking to each other or through each other at various moments. There's also the mysterious Michelin (Nicholas Norena), a silent type who appears every now and again to bang on a drum. Said action often causing the story to change direction.

Watching the action on stage gives one the feeling of seeing a dream unfolding where different thoughts, memories and people from a person's life who have no business being together in the waking world are able to co-exist here. Also like a dream, there is a certain disjointedness and choppy sensation to the proceedings, leading to sudden shifts of narrative yet still staying within the overall impression of what had been shown before.

Sisto does well as Samuel, an aging dreamer/loner trapped in his memories, while talking about avoiding his destiny and blaming himself for doing just that. There is also more that a bit of faded gentility among him, as he talks about his beautiful coquettes and mentioning a leisurely promenade through the dark streets of a city almost dead. His words also suggest a hint of Tennessee Williams, and of not-quite faded bitterness of what has come before. Kraigher and Hayes play off Sisto nicely as the coquettes in question. The women, like Samuel, seemingly trapped on a mobius strip of what is, what was and what will be. Suzie, supposedly the one Samuel's been searching for all his life, gets to have her own dreams of being admired and of being in a pretty dress on a sun drenched boulevard. But are these really her own dreams or are they Samuel's dreams for her or about her?

Foreman, who came out of retirement to create this work, knows what he is trying to present, with everything being carefully set out for one reason or another. This care is evident in the seemingly chaotic yet quite deliberately chosen set, with a performing area dressed up with bits of string, a blackboard and a supposedly haphazard collection of letters. Also tossed into the mix are photographs, newspapers and flowers - all offering tantalizing hints to what's about to be shown. Directorially-wise, Forman does a good job with the action, keeping things moving carefully and concisely while taking great pains so the work will not overstay its welcome.

Offering a wonderful presentation of the avant-garde where nothing is what it seems or perhaps it's all so straightforward one can't see the explanation, Old-Fashioned Prostitutes is an example of theatre that refuses to spoon-feed the audience a story, forcing them instead to try to figure it out on their own. Those who find something like this intellectually stimulating should make tracks to The Public Theater immediately, and for those who don't well, there's certainly enough mindless alternatives out there to choose from.

Old-Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance)

Featuring: David Skeist (Alfredo), Stephanie Hayes (Gabriella) Alenka Kraigher (Suzie) Rocco Sisto (Samuel), Nicholas Norena (Bibendum (aka Michelin)

Written, directed and designed by Richard Foreman
Performed in association with Ontological-Hysteric Theater
Costume Design: Gabriel Berry
Lighting Design: Yael Lubetzky

Production Stage Manager: Lee Micklin
Stage Manager: Michael Ulreich

The Public Theater

425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or
Running Time: 65 Minutes, no intermission
Closes: June 2, 2013

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