UPDATE: New Daniel Mufson Interview in print– Imprisoned Airs, BIDOUN–Art & Culture from the Middle East, Summer 2012.
“The recession is as nothing compared to the regression.
The athleticism of American capitalism will no doubt rescue us from the catastrophes of the S&L scandals, the unemployment, and the general lurch towards lower standards of living. But from the regression, our irreversible descent into a more primitive state, there can be no salvation. The drug-addled, plague-ridden, crime-infested society that nightly reports the murders and atrocities of a civilization going down the tubes is the legacy that will make us pathetic to our twenty-first century survivors, assuming there are any.
Reza Abdoh’s BOGEYMAN, a cri de coeur cunningly disguised as a performance piece, now tearing up the boards of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, takes nothing less than the phantasms of modern life as its subject. With AIDS as his subtext, and death as his pretext, Abdoh has looked hard and deep into his own terror and reproduced the lineaments of his own despair. He has found parallels between his own fragile mortality(he is HIV-positive) and the cruelty of a society that encourages a brutal psychopathology as a normal way of life.
The production’s most apparent feature is rage, but it is not couched in the form of social protest. It is more like a painful reconstruction of the metaphysic that underlies all social injustice and nourishes all evil. Indeed, one is constantly reminded of Goya and Baudelaire: the former’s obsession with clinically depicting human cruelty and the latter’s descent into the living hell that everyday life is for poetes maudit. And if BOGEYMAN has a literary antecedent, it is unquestionably Antonin Artaud, who was the first to compare the theater’s function to that of the plague.
“Like the plague,” Artaud wrote, “the theater is a formidable call to forces that impel the mind by example to the source of conflicts . . . The plague takes images that are dormant, a latent disorder, and suddenly extends them in the most extreme gestures . . . .In the true theater, a play disturbs the senses’ repose, frees the repressed unconscious, incites a kind of virtual revolt. . . and imposes upon the assembled collectivity an attitude which is both difficult and heroic.”
All of these observations apply majestically to Bogeyman.
. . . .This is Charles Ludlam’s world perceived by Genet and rendered by the Marquis de Sade.
The theatrical diction is postmodernist. It combines video imagery with frantic Artaudian writhings. Occasionally, it resorts to incongruous interpolations (hymns, pop songs, unexpected Latin American dance numbers) to disorient our expectations.
But whatever aesthetic quibbles one might raise about BOGEYMAN’S unfiltered dramaturgy or lack of variety, nothing can detract from its passion or its integrity. Producer Diane White is known to have personally bankrolled much of this production’s expenses(it is lavish by LATC standards) and this may well be her greatest claim to managerial fame. If, as people suspect, this turns out to be one of the last croaks in LATC’s swan song, it will have gone out in style.”
LOS ANGELES IN REVIEW: BOGEYMAN
Originally published in TheaterWeek, 1991.