Richard Foreman Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Richard Foreman has been involved in all aspects of theater. In addition to his plays, he has written several manifestos and essays that explain the genesis of his theater work from a philosophical point of view, and he has also directed several plays and produced numerous videos. He has also published selected librettos and a novel, No-Body (1996).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Richard Foreman is one of the founders of the contemporary American theatrical avant-garde. His Ontological-Hysteric Theatre —for which Foreman acted as the sole playwright, director, and designer—is influenced by the theories of Bertolt Brecht and Gertrude Stein. Foreman’s intent is to distance the audience from their normal expectations of a pleasurable theater experience and to make spectators aware of the process of perception. To force this awareness, he often obscures the stage picture with bright lights; leaves his scripts meaningless, nonnarrative, and nonlinear; and uses loud sounds to unsettle the spectator from passive complacency. Foreman has also applied his avant-garde aesthetic to texts by other writers, and even as a director, his signature remains unmistakable. Foreman’s style was the harbinger of the postmodern theater work of artists such as the Wooster Group and John Jesurun. Foreman has received nine Village Voice Obies (including three for best play, and one for lifetime achievement), two New York State Creative Artists Public Service Awards, a Rockefeller Foundation playwrights grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation playwrights grant. He has also received the PEN/Laura Pels Master American Playwright Award, the MacArthur fellowship (1995-2000), the Edwin Booth Award for Theatrical Achievement, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in literature; National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Distinguished Artist Fellowship for lifetime achievement in theater, and two NEA Playwriting fellowships.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3 in A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Bigsby’s chapter on Foreman is at once explanatory and critical, analyzing Foreman’s manifestos and early plays. He points to the inconsistencies and shortcomings of some of Foreman’s theories within actual theater practice and its reception. He also connects the work with that of the absurdists and the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Davy, Kate. Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1981. This in-depth book details Foreman’s working methods as writer, director, scenographer, and composer. It is also invaluable as an analysis of the dramatic theories of Bertolt Brecht and Gertrude Stein insofar as they have influenced Foreman’s theory and practice.

Foreman, Richard. “A Conversation with Richard Foreman.” Interview by Charles Bernstein. The Drama Review 36 (Fall, 1992): 103-130. In this interview, Foreman describes developments and shifts in his working methods and philosophy. He also reveals his literary and philosophical influences as well as the types of theater against which he is reacting—Jerzy Grotowski’s, in particular.

Halstead, Jack. “Re-Viewing Richard Foreman and Theater of Images.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 4 (Spring, 1992). Halstead elaborates on Foreman’s earlier Ontological-Hysteric Theatre practice in terms of mimesis and writing, viewing these issues from the standpoint of poststructuralist theory. He draws clear parallels between Foreman’s work and the ideas of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.

Munk, Erika. “Film Is Ego, Radio Is God: Richard Foreman and the Arts of Control.” The Drama Review 31 (Winter, 1987): 125-135. This review-essay on Film Is Evil: Radio Is Good contemplates how far Foreman has pushed reflection about his own authority by concentrating on a medium—film—that inevitably reinforces his authority. Munk surmises that technological forms throw one back on a self that finds it increasingly difficult to recognize itself.

Rabkin, Gerald, ed. Richard Foreman. Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Wide-ranging anthology includes reviews, interviews, essays and a selection of Foreman’s writings. Detailed chronology of Foreman’s career, bibliography, and nineteen photographs.

Robinson, Marc. The Other American Drama. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Study of alternative American drama beginning with Gertrude Stein concludes its survey with a chapter on Foreman.