Drama with a 'ferociously original style'; Egyptology (My Head Was a Sledgehammer). Play written and directed by Richard Foreman.

I have observed before that watching a Richard Foreman play is like visiting someone else's dream. But sometimes the experience is more like being trapped in someone else's nightmare.

These thoughts were vivid as I watched the last Public Theater show directed by Foreman from his own script, ''Penguin Touquet,'' which was sort of about a restaurant. And they were with me again at his latest extravaganza, ''Egyptology ,'' which is sort of about a cultural collision between East and West.

Foreman's accomplishments are prodigious. Over the past dozen years or so, working with his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, he has developed a ferociously original style. And he has learned to wield it with a visual brilliance that would be dazzling even if it weren't so innovative.

This doesn't make him happy and content, though, judging from the frantic sense of anxiety that courses through his work. The heroine of ''Egyptology,'' somehow marooned in ancient times after a plane crash, positively rattles with confusion and doubt. The other characters, ranging from nurses to prostitutes, pummel her (and us) with a barrage of menace, punctuated by occasional mayhem and mirth.

Storylines tentatively raise their heads, only to be blasted to smithereens by the mad audiovisual onrush. While mixup and overload are the method and message of the show, however, nobody seems very pleased with the state of affairs, least of all the hapless figments of Foreman's crowded imagination. Certainly not everyone has the wry perspective of - I'm not making this up - Louis XIV, who arrives with shoe boxes strapped to his feet and ski poles in his hands, and rhetorically asks, ''Isn't it interesting to be living in an age when nothing works?''

As an exercise in allusion and dissociation, ''Egyptology'' is no more scrambled than many a modern poem, and its fragmented structure has plenty of precedents in painting. Yet works on canvas or in print can be perused at leisure; a play exists only for the duration of its performances.

''Egyptology'' is a stunning ''carnival of effects,'' to use a Foreman phrase. Still, it's rather much to fathom in one sitting, and while two or three viewings would surely open more doors to its multiple meanings, I suspect most spectators will find its megadoses of angst too daunting for many repeat visits.

The cast of ''Egyptology'' comports itself with great energy and conviction, led by Foreman's perennial star, Kate Manheim. Other participants include Seth Allen, Frank Maraden, and Lola Pashalinski.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.