Genius Savant

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It may surprise some people that movie star Willem Dafoe (Spiderman, The English Patient, Platoon) has roots deep in the stages of experimental theater. Dafoe was a founding member of The Wooster Group in New York, along with director Elizabeth LeCompte and Spalding Gray. Recently, I was lucky enough to catch him back in his old stomping grounds in Richard Foreman's 'Idiot Savant' at the Public Theater.

Sauntering in looking like a Samurai Libertine with a pacifier-like plug in his mouth, Dafoe plays the title role of the wondering Idiot with the petulance of a child and the anger of a madman. The set is a kind of padded Victorian cell, where his partners onstage, the ethereal Marie in the Black Dress and the booze slugging Olga in the Riding Pants, partake in a tense, abstract verbal dance culminating in the question: 'What makes certain words... magic?'

Foreman (playwright and director of the production) famously writes page after page of non-linear dialogue – but in the hands of an outstanding cast, its meaning is clear. As absurd as 'Idiot Savant' appears on the surface, to experience it is an oddly poignant event. Dafoe's masterful performance is a touching reflection on our longing for meaning in life.

By the way, if you feel the urge to create your own experimental piece, Richard Foreman has made all of his notebooks available to the public.