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Willem Dafoe: The Village Idiot and Our Town

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It's a fact: folks will flock to see Idiot Savant, Richard Foreman's new play at the Public Theater, just to see its star, Willem Dafoe, in a billowy blouse and skirt. Indeed, what a sight that is. Not to mention his hair in a top tail like a suma wrestler. There is no quirkier actor around -- nor one so well suited to Foreman's madness. Then again, look at Dafoe's film roles: he stars in Lars von Trier's controversial Antichrist, in theaters as I write. The "idiot savant" of the play, Dafoe's elastic face does drooling and delirium with fresh verve. He is aided in his idiosyncrasies -- i.e. inter-species golf with a giant duck -- by two women: Marie (Alenka Kraigher), evoking the blond velvet of a pre-Raphaelite damsel and Olga (Elina Lowensohn), an accented dominatrix in chaps, and three limber servants (Joel Israel, Eric Magnus, and Daniel Allen Nelson). Plot? Idiot Savant is less formal than its distant uncle Hamlet, coincidentally current on Broadway, a fun meditation on the "magic" in "chosen words" as discerned in a dazzling array of verbal and visual hijinks. "The following will appear onstage," promises a voice at the play's outset: a boxing bag, oversized golf ball and snake, two imitation rowboats, etc. When they do, as when Marie sports a cartoon rowboat affixed to her body looking like a cigarette girl hawking her wares (a pun on walking on water?), you are simply blown away.

There's been talk that the much lauded production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town directed by David Cromer at the Barrow Street Theater will move to Broadway. While the producers deliberate this move, let me say, you can really smell the bacon in this play -- literally -- and it is warm and nourishing. I was curious to see how Cromer had dusted off the old treasure, that can be played sentimental or melodramatic, especially after I had seen his ill-fated production of Brighton Beach Memoirs shut down after only a week's performances and very good reviews. Even his formidable direction could not save the Neil Simon classic. Our Town is such a beautiful work, it can be played as a period piece as in the superb opera production with music by Ned Rorem performed at Lincoln Center a few seasons ago, or pared down in Cromer's version to a bare set-tables and chairs -- where the audience is asked to imagine every location, the church, cemetery, schoolyard -- in Grovers Corner, New Hampshire. At Barrow Street, the work is intimately staged with actors pantomiming among the audience a la The Living Theater. Perhaps the move uptown will bring Our Town to the wide audience it surely deserves. In any case, don't miss this gem.

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