The MacArthur Foundation has made geniuses of three icons of the downtown theater scene. The foundation, which awards hefty five-year grants to creative people in the arts and sciences who are inevitably dubbed “MacArthur geniuses,” named Meredith Monk, Elizabeth LeCompte and Richard Foreman among this year’s crop.
Monk, a dancer, choreographer and composer, can rightfully lay claim to being one of the first performance artists: Beginning in the mid-’60s, when she was a member of the famed Judson Dance Theater, she created pieces that combined elements drawn from the worlds of dance, theater and music, and her influence on performance was keenly felt throughout the ’70s and ’80s. LeCompte is the indefatigable artistic director of the Wooster Group, New York’s premier deconstructivist, multimedia ensemble, whose founding members in 1975 included Spalding Gray and Willem Dafoe. In addition to original works, the Wooster Group has presented extremely provocative accounts of “Our Town” and other modern American classics, most recently O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape,” often staged by LeCompte.
Foreman is the old-timer of the group; he founded his Ontological-Hysteric Theater in 1968, and while he occasionally ventures north of 14th Street (in 1975 he staged an unforgettable “Threepenny Opera,” starring Raul Julia, for Joseph Papp at the Vivian Beaumont Theater), Foreman is most at home in his East Village theater, where he plays with plot, with performers, with design and certainly with audiences, which are typically subjected to blinding lights, loud buzzers and scenes fractured by wires crisscrossing the stage.