The real Maria del Bosco, as opposed to the imaginary, is translated from Italian as “Maria of the Forests,” and appeared to an Italian shepherd as an image in a tree in the woods of Sicily. He called out to the other peasants working in the surrounding fields, who put down their scythes and ploughs and came a-running. They also saw the configuration. In honor of the experience, the Bishop of Bovine dedicated a small convent to this Maria in 1433. So great were her miracles that in 1837 her image was carried in a devotional procession and stopped an outbreak of cholera in the area.
In this 50th play of Richard Foreman, Maria del Bosco has morphed into a combination ingénue/ballerina/fin-de-siècle, broken-down glamour queen. She is accompanied by two other long-legged, high maintenance, thoroughbred cohorts who stumble and slouch around in smushed pink tulle tutus and dirty scuffed dancing shoes. Offstage, there is a pre-recorded voice that drones like an announcement heard in airports, shopping malls, and elevators, telling us, “The Countess Maria Del Bosco, searching as usual for the appropriate image, meditating upon the given object of the moment.”
In one of forty-some-odd one-liners like this that pepper the play, the appropriate image is the focal point. It is the visceral impact of the dream-like, surrealistic phantasmagorias of theater that permits us, the viewers, to suspend our belief temporarily, to enter the realm of dream, fantasy, and even insanity in a series of vignettes that swell with cultural resonance and employ sentence fragments that stick in your mind like crazy glue.
That graceful sylphs trip over small metal horse jumping gates—I can only imagine the bruises that remain on the actresses’ shins after the curtain goes down. In the background Lotte Lehmann sings Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und -leben (A Woman’s Love and Life)”, which describes love at first sight, apparently with a never-seen racing car driver, as alluded to by the discovery of a Nascar-type steering wheel found in an army green garbage canister. “Here comes the racing car that wins all competitions,” the voice says, and the music changes from German romanticism to rock, rap and a nighttime rave.
So if winning the competition is the racing car driver, and the racing car driver is actually love, why do the ballerinas disintegrate and walk around with such louche indifference? And then, as if a little man offstage was performing a festive party imitation of a Punjab Indian Brahmin, an accented voice proclaims, “Silence is not golden,” and men, known collectively as “The Bruces,” step out wearing dunce caps.
“I just can’t find it,” proclaim the weary ballerinas as they dance with the army green trash canisters over their heads, while the Wizard of Oz voice offstage declares, “The real wish is what destroys. Make contact with the real wish which destroys you.”
Although the inspiration for the ballerinas is supposed to be Helmut Newton, Foreman couldn’t quite find girls who could really growl, but only primp, pout, stare, and blow kisses. Instead it is the iconic pop saint, Madonna, another Maria, the original material girl with the pumped-up biceps, who comes to mind instead of the Helmut, and her hit single “Vogue,” with its moves ripped off from her friends in the documentary Paris is Burning. If only she had hired Foreman to be the director of her MTV video, we would have seen an art event that could have taken high and low brow art to a new horizon, worthy for the cable-addled masses.
The secondary subtext drones out from the loudspeaker: “one world superimposed on a second world.” In lesser hands, that statement would be contrived. Not so in this context, which is rife with hallucinatory glory. But what is that “second world”? It’s presented to us as three big “We All Live In A Yellow Submarine”-type cardboard heads and either three, six or nine slices of faux cherry pie. This realization, of two worlds simultaneously occurring, causes the ballerinas to literally hit the wall with foam sledge hammers and then make lewd, masturbatory gestures using their little slices of cherry pie.
The girls breathily say “ohhhh,” like kindergarteners, but what is the real solution to this disembodied existentialism? As in much of Foreman’s work, it is the image of the newly born, the harbingers of the next generation. A naked doll on a maroon and yellow throne which looks like an uncrowned baby llama is held with red pincers by the throat, and, looking either murdered or exalted, placed in an airplane. Three male hooded figures that wear pointy white KKK hats with lace eyelets resembling those of Taliban wives appear to confront us with the caveats of control, hype, fascism, and freedom. “See, everything is perfection after all,” the disembodied voice drones. Then it asks the rhetorical, “How can I get to feel good all over, what is the best way?” But isn’t everything already perfect? Then why the need to feel good?
The images fly by faster and faster. The women cover their faces in white cloth to resemble the Magritte painting, “The Lovers”, straight out of Surrealism 101. A man holds a black bucket of white skulls, and a ballerina embraces it. The voice tells us, “For a brief period, the Countess Maria del Bosco lives a life that is very intense, very centered, and therefore more real than life itself.” But is that really true? How can life be more real than it already is? The answer to that is in the concoction that Foreman sets up during his one-hour paradigm, the experience so concentrated that one taste can send you over the edge, and in that way certainly “more real than life itself.”
The Ballerinas hug the skulls to their pretty pink crotches, and with this image of life, death, and sex dangling before us, the voice comes back to say, “The only way to be comfortable is to be dead.”
The zinger finale appears as the three tutu girls canter out wearing strapped on dildos with elephantine red dicks that employ luscious, shiny black plastic grapes for testicles. They whirl and carry whips and become self-replicating hermaphrodites while the Bruces run away. They grind and fuck the empty olive green army canisters. Maria del Bosco kisses fully on the lips a disembodied female head that evokes images of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. The voice bellows, “Being alive is a problem, because being alive is an exception to all other things…Being dead is never a problem if one is dead already.” Sex and death kiss in the infinite and a large poster shoots out from the depth of the stage set saying, “Resist the present.” Light and sound crescendo in an orgy of sensorial stimulation.
Resist the present. Sure. But why? The only way to know is to go back to the play read the subtext again. Then you’ll figure it out.