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THEATER REVIEW : ‘FOUR HORSEMEN’ RATTLES LIKE DEATH

Theater of the ugly, theater of the demonic, theater of gibberish. Call it what you will, some people will like it. Others won’t.

If you prefer to leave the theater with a feeling of awakening, a deeper understanding, or simply a lift from having traversed--and conquered--treacherous terrain, then it is strongly advised that you stay away from Luke Theodore Morrison’s brand of theater, where sociological problems are tackled by burying one’s head in the slime and trying to scream a way out.

“Legacy of the Four Horsemen,” the latest production of Morrison’s Center for Theatre Science and Research, opened Thursday at Sushi performance gallery on 8th Avenue. The three-act play is part of a longer work, “Apocalypse to the Apokatastasis,” described in the program as “a progression of four works for a new theater for the new city.”

Among the small audience were those who seemed to enjoy--or at least appreciate--the two-hour ordeal. Two young children in the front row did not, despite the fact that they appeared to be related to one of the cast members. One cannot help but wonder who would subject any child to this type of moaning, writhing performance art that seeks to denounce the ugliness of life by becoming a part of it.

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Morrison, who wrote, adapted from other sources, directed and designed the set for the piece, spent 20 years formulating his personal theatrical style as a member of The Living Theatre, one of the most prominent “guerrilla” theater companies of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

It is comforting, while watching “Four Horsemen,” to know that this kind of gritty, groping experimentalist theater has pretty much passed out of the public’s range of interest. The novelty of it, the shock, the curiosity of watching a troupe risk offending stuffy audiences just isn’t fun anymore.

And it is not fun to watch Morrison, Larry Baza, Jennifer Cooper, Angela Ashley, Maureen Mooney, Anthony Rehfuss, Ralph McDermid and B. Nova moaning, screaming, hollering, chanting, breathing hard or spouting rhythmic litanies of the sociopolitical complaints--no matter how legitimate--that inspire Morrison’s theater.

It is not appealing to watch the women sloppily exposing themselves in ripped tank tops, or to see a man shouting and spitting across the stage.

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Morrison credits Sophocles, Bertolt Brecht and Oscar Wilde, along with Julian Beck and Judith Malina (founders of The Living Theatre), and Friedrich Hoeldrlin as sources he has “collectivized” to create “Legacy of the Four Horsemen.”

This process yielded a first act entitled, “The Western Blot Blood Will Tell,” a grueling introduction to the four horsemen--War, Plague, Famine and Death--with sexually transmitted diseases as its focus.

Morrison equates the treatment of epidemics with totalitarian repression, ending the act, after several scenes that visually and aurally attack the viewer, with the cast circulating among the audience, touching and kissing them and tossing out leaflets that begin, “Surely the proponents of quarantine don’t believe people with AIDS will submit docilely to having their rights taken away.”

For those who stay--and it is surprising so many do--the second act, “The Iced Woman,” draws one in with an almost calming rhythm. The cast appears in white hooded gowns, bathed in cold blue light (designed by Mark Sell with Maria Mangiavellano), chanting. They are a primitive, superstitious people--a bad memory of our long-vanished past.

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Their violent, sexist, fearful state of mind is not so far behind us, Morrison seems to be saying.

The third act, “De Profundis (The Profound),” is a bizarre eulogy to Wilde. His talent, and his two-year imprisonment for homosexuality, make Wilde the perfect hero for an attack on “Them.”

“Them” is an actual character in the first act, but the establishment “officialdom” that is villain in Morrison’s world is present throughout. “Four Horsemen” points a derisive finger at “Them,” the cause of gross injustices.

Yet the final scene suggests another source for the ugliness that haunts Morrison’s work.

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The stage is filled by an abstract sculpture of a man’s profile, a two-story scaffolding filled with actors and actresses who wail, fight, grapple, paw and grimace while Morrison, as the imprisoned Wilde, sits in a tiny cage and drones his philosophies and complaints.

Morrison’s “Legacy of the Four Horsemen” is obsessed, and thus conquered, by its own demons, choosing to plunge its audience back into the primeval swamp rather than helping them to find a way out.

“LEGACY OF THE FOUR HORSEMEN” Created, directed and staged by Luke Theodore Morrison. Lighting by Mark Sell with Maria Mangiavellano. Metal Costume by Margaret Honda. Sculptural Welding by Bill Dwyer. Iced Woman Costume by Arlyn Abseck. Set design by Morrison. Four Horses designed by Ralph McDermid. Produced by The Center for Theatre Science and Research. Sunday, Thursday, Friday and April 27 at 8 p.m. at Sushi, 852 8th Ave.


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