Richard Foreman has been running his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre for years, though lately it is content to go by the more modest moniker of Ontological. If I had to choose which epithet to drop, I would have picked the other one, hysteria being much more the specialty of the house. The group’s latest offering is Benita Canova (Gnostic Eroticism), supposedly based on the paintings of Balthus – no more in evidence than Gnostic Eroticism, whatever that might be.
We get scenes from an unlikely brothel featuring alleged schoolgirls, all of whom look to have repeated every grade at least once. Three of them get to speak Foreman’s nonsense, under Foreman’s weird direction, in Foreman’s tacky décor. Three others merely mill around, laughing, screaming, or milling. The heroine wears a yellow Jewish star, though there is no mention of a time or place that would justify it. The others have it in for her, for unclear reasons. The madam is a transvestite, played by the sometime playwright David Greenspan, who makes as little sense as the girls do. The only customer seems to be a gorilla, but even he gets to enjoy Benita’s favors only when he dies.
Benita’s chief rival speaks with an affected accent that sounds like a hillbilly’s idea of Mrs. Astor’s 400. There is also the character called The Sly One, who doesn’t seem particularly sly, but is distinctly overweight. There are numerous illiterate references to a “modus operandus,” which made me want to shout “di! di!,” but I bit my tongue. The dialogue crackles, or at least cracks, as when Benita announces “My mirror has a big crack in it,” and proceeds to moon us. But not really: In Gnostic Eroticism you don’t get to see flesh, except Mr. Greenspan’s unimpressive genitals. But back to the dialogue, which is profoundly metaphysical, as in, “Of course we are losing touch with reality – that’s our one point of contact with reality.”
The downtown audience, suckers for Gnostic Eroticism, grooved on this; slumming uptown types seemed baffled but intent. I, for one, was happy to leave the Ontological Theatre, muttering to myself “On to the logical,” though even that is in shortening supply.