The President's Excellent Adventure

I always have this feeling that there must be another world in which there is a different rhythm operating, and I just put things together and keep changing the way all the things onstage relate to each other, until it seems to evoke for me the weirdness of that other world that I'd rather be in. -- Richard Foreman

Playwright Richard Foreman sounds like just the sort of fellow who'd attract the good and strange folks at Infernal Bridegroom Productions, Houston's own avant-garde theatrical troupe. The man The New York Times called a "titan of the avant-garde" -- a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts and a MacArthur "genius" grant -- has written more than 40 plays and directed countless others. He also started up one of the most influential experimental theatrical companies in America, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in New York's East Village.

IBP produced two plays by Foreman back in 1996. But that was before the group had its own space and all that grant money it's since acquired. These days, IBP productions are richer than ever, so we're excited to announce the opening of Foreman's 1987 work Symphony of Rats, co-directed by two of Houston's own demigods of the avant-garde, Troy Schulze and Charlie Scott.

Scott seems particularly excited by this new production. Foreman is influenced by poetry, and his plots are often, says Scott, "ephemeral and mysterious." The story of Symphony of Rats is anything but standard. "What appears to be happening is that the president of the United States seems to be having a crisis of consciousness. And he seems to be on a spiritual journey into himself in which he's trying to reach the human side of himself as opposed to the official side. He's kind of like an everyman."

But this is no dark and serious philosophical trip. Lots of strange and silly things happen to the president on his journey. "He goes through an out-of-the-body experience," says Scott. "He goes through a UFO experience. He encounters some strange beings that could be aliens. And he gets all kinds of impediments from his staff who are attempting to keep him in line."

Anyone who enjoyed puppet-maker Katie Jackson's rhino heads in IBP's last production, Ionesco's Rhinoceros, is apparently in for a treat. Jackson and her helper Larry Olivarez have made eight-foot-tall puppet aliens for the show. "They are phenomenal to look at," Scott gushes. "One dispenses ice cream, and they both have television monitors stuck on them."

And the ridiculous situations the president finds himself in also amuse Scott. "At one point they place the president in a glass booth with a golf club and force him to practice his golf game," says Scott. "He's inside the glass booth, whacking around, trying to become the presidential golfer, and he's completely inept."

There's also lots of dancing. "Foreman likes his performers to dance," Scott says. "Sometimes the dancing is imposed on the characters, and it can be very silly and very fun to watch."

Indeed. Puppet aliens, dancing (choreographed by our favorite redhead, Tamarie Cooper) and a president's spiritual quest: Now that's otherworldly weirdness that should bring some amusement to this world.

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Lee Williams