Eddie Goes to Poetry City: The Old Avant-garde

Noel Bowers as the doctor and Gabriel Regojo as Eddie in Catastrophic Theatre's production of Eddie Goes to Poetry City.
Noel Bowers as the doctor and Gabriel Regojo as Eddie in Catastrophic Theatre's production of Eddie Goes to Poetry City. Photo by Tabitha Bounds

Richard Foreman writes weird plays. Catastrophic Theatre thrives on weird plays. Eddie Goes to Poetry City is a perfect match.

The match may be perfect; the play not so much.

Lauded, feted, hailed as a titan of theater's avant-garde, Foreman has been deconstructing the art of the play since the '60s. He eschews established playwriting tropes and goes for the subconscious jugular. He wants us to think instead of feel. Drama is shunned. His plays are constructed out of ideas.

Eddie hails from 1990 and is classic Foreman: vaudevillian, meta-theatrical, cerebral, show-offy, dense and thick. But the distance between us and his characters becomes unbridgeable. Why does the audience laugh at inappropriate times? Perhaps because Foreman misses the target he's aiming for. He strives to be deep-dish, but his sly irony comes across as insincere and his alienating effects turn his play shallow and superficial. Is he putting us on? How are we to know what's meaningful?

Nothing ages so fast as the avant-garde. There's not enough Botox in the world to keep it young and fresh. What might be daring and shocking quickly seeps into the ordinary and conventional. Soon, something new emerges that bumps it aside and takes our breath away. Thirty years old, Eddie is already passé.

plot bones are age-old. Although Foreman might wash everything under a quick-silver circus atmosphere, innocent Eddie (Gabriel Regojo, nicely rumpled and tousled) is a modern Candide, searching for someplace better, but ultimately searching for himself. Poetry City is his El Dorado, but it's no better than what he's left behind. His claustrophobic room without a view is gorgeously conjured by Greg Dean (who's also the director, co-sound designer, and omniscient Voice) as a paper-strewn cabinet of curiosities with the detritus of picture frames, antique busts, black-and-white checkerboard motifs, half a mannequin, steam pipes, file drawers – the befuddlement swirling inside Eddie's mind.

On his journey he meets his own Dr. Pangloss (oily Noel Bowers in fez and eye patch); eternal femme fatales Estelle (Karina Pal Montaño-Bowers) and Marie (Jenna Morris), although both have their buttocks intact, unlike Voltaire's ancient seductress; and an Old Testament God (Clarity Welch) who carries a painting of a skull that has a meaning that eluded me. Eddie's poked and prodded, seduced and abused at the mercy of his own fevered imagination. “Why is everybody looking at me?” he calls out in deadpan. The Voice responds with exasperated sarcasm, “You're in a play, Eddie.”

Foreman never lets us forget we're watching a play. That's part of his Brecht/Gertrude Stein homage. Sometimes, the characters move like automatons or speed up like they're in a silent movie, or purr into microphones placed around the stage. No one reacts like a real person, they're stilted and artificial, but that's Foreman's shtick. We're watching a fever dream...or a thesis. Eddie is anti-theater but uses theater's most potent constructs – sound, design, lighting, actors – to lure us into his septic vision.

I admit it, I don't know what Foreman's trying to say. Eddie left me cold. But Catastrophic gives him a brilliantine gloss. Tim Thomson's sound design is exceptionally atmospheric with gongs, buzzers, explosions, '20s dance music, the static of an old-time radio, honking geese, shattering glass; Macy Lyne's fragrant costumes add psychological color; while Andrew Archer's laser lighting illuminates the depths that Foreman willingly obscures.

You can feel Dean's admiration and respect in Catastrophic's production. He loves Foreman's Eddie. I wish I could share his passion.

Eddie Goes to Poetry City continues through March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Monday, February 27; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays at MATCH, 3400 Main. For more information, call 713-521-4533 or visit $35 suggested.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover