Shows Worth Seeing:
The Gods are Pounding My Head (AKA Lumberjack Messiah)
By Richard Foreman
The Ontological at St. Marks
131 E. 10th St. at 2nd Ave.
Foreman’s new play is awash in melancholy and bewilderment. Even more so than usual. The text is no less wackily fractured, the characters no less bizarrely solipsistic, than ever: a pair of rueful lumberjacks (played by Jay Smith and T. Ryder Smith) chop, flex and dash about while negotiating various mental thickets and physical distractions such as a crew of pseudo-Turkish bellhops, proliferating fried eggs, a giant human heart, and a pixyish girl named Maude (Charlotta Mohlin). But something is different this time, an uneasy quality of lyricism and elegy that sits uneasily on the material, gestural and vocal choices that tilt toward the doleful and never tilt back. It’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater sans hysteria, ending on an acrid note of frustrating impasse rather than the usual accelerando of brash audacity. “Courage!” shouts the bigger lumberjack in an absurdly anomalous allusion to Tennyson’s “Lotos-Eaters”—one of numerous Victorian quotes that seem chosen to protest their very obscurity and unfashionableness. It’s only reasonable to wonder how all this disgust relates to Foreman’s recent announcement that The Gods Are Pounding My Head will be the last play of its kind before he flies off to Asia to pursue a new exploration of film. The play also contains dozens of tiny nods to the abysmal current cultural moment—the political echoes in the lumberjacks’ names, Dutch and Frenchie, for instance. One of the strangest aspects of Foreman’s art has always been that even his bummers are mysteriously uplifting, and that is certainly still the case here. Whatever’s pounding your head, his “gym of art” (as he calls it) helps you find its rhythm and enjoy it.