THE MIND KING Play by Richard Foreman. Directed by Foreman. Starring David Patrick Kelly and Henry Stram. Playing at the Ontological at St. Mark's through March 1.
RICHARD FOREMAN launched his Ontological-Hysteric Theater almost 25 years ago, and it has been going strong ever since - outside the mainstream, but all the more spunky and provocative since it hasn't needed to worry about pleasing mass-audience tastes.
Not that Mr. Foreman can't please large audiences, as he has shown with occasional forays to Broadway and other traditional venues.
But he always returns to the physically concentrated, intellectually challenging style that suits his sensibility best.
Now that sensibility has found a permanent new home in the Ontological at St. Mark's Theater, an intimate Greenwich Village performance space. Foreman has inaugurated his new theater with a new play, "The Mind King," which crystallizes the concerns he has explored in many of his 40-odd productions.
There are only two characters. Both are identified as the Mind King, although they wear different costumes and have distinctive personalities. Also present are a woman who never speaks, known as the Lady in the Shadows, and a male speaker who is never seen - and who also claims to be the Mind King.
The action starts with one of the men insisting he's been possessed by an angel. It then proceeds to a hectic 70-minute conversation in which all manner of hopes, fears, anxieties, and emotions are dissected and held up to view. This happens with a fractured energy that slips in and out of linear narrative as readily as the characters slip in and out of conventionally defined sanity.
No simple explanation of "The Mind King" can do justice to the density of its ideas, the complexity of its language, or the rich detail of its visual style. But it's reasonable to say that the play's overarching interest concerns the duality of human experience - the apparent splits between mind and body, thought and emotion, conscious and unconscious, personal and public, and other bifurcated areas that modernist art and poetry (to which Foreman is keenly attuned) have made it their business to explore.
The characters of "The Mind King" oscillate madly between different poles of these oppositions, making small discoveries and establishing brave little outposts amid manifestations of contemporary confusion that pound relentlessly upon them. While their odyssey is not a cheerful one, it has moments of great humor and intervals of touching calm that make it entertaining as well as stimulating. It ranks with the best work of Foreman's recent career.
"The Mind King" stars David Patrick Kelly, known for his appearances in the "Twin Peaks" television series, and Henry Stram, another Foreman veteran. Both have the rare ability to perform Foreman's fragmented, collage-like scenes with an emotional conviction normally associated with traditionally structured drama.
Foreman himself is unusually active these days, presiding over his new theater and also releasing two new books: "Love & Science," comprising his musical-theater librettos, and "Unbalancing Acts," a volume of scripts and reflections. Coming to the Ontological in May is a Foreman trilogy presented by Spin Theater.