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Foreman Foremost

Linda Austin curates another round of ontologically hysterical Richard Foreman theater.

"My aim in life..."

I: "Do tell."

R: (Pauses) "Not to interpret and understand what's encountered but rather the hope to encounter the inexplicable."

Linda Austin: "I was surprised by the response."

Austin laughs over the scraps of a scone at Stumptown on Southeast Belmont Street, where we've met to talk about her second journey into the wild theatrical world of Richard Foreman.

Austin has held fundraisers to support her Performance Works NorthWest since 1998. These affairs were usually impromptu cabarets in the space off Southeast Foster Road, during which invited artists performed whatever they wished. But last year Austin took a different tack, deciding on a themed weekend of work. "It was Jerry Mouawad at Imago who pointed out to me that some of Foreman's texts were posted on the Internet," Austin explains, "and that they were free for performing. Foreman only asks to be notified of a performance."

Having looked over the Internet material, Austin chose a short passage dealing with a man named Roly Poly who goes to China. She then sent the passage to the group of performers that were interested in participating. The two evenings that followed saw these performers--some of Portland's finest--interpreting the same piece of text and made for one of the most exciting theater events here in years, encompassing the cake-encrusted Katie Griesar and Danielle Vermette's disorderly birthday party from Hell and Christine Calfas' plaintive cries for Roly Poly over a harmonium. Naturally, Austin hopes to top it this year.

Portlanders are happily not strangers to Foreman's theater, which might account for the sophisticated level of last year's work. From his Ontological-Hysteric Theatre lair in New York, Foreman has long been one of America's great stage artists, spinning out philosophical vaudevilles of paradox and imponderabilia. Seven years ago, Imago took on his magnificent Symphony of Rats. The following year the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art invited Foreman and his company to Portland to stage his Pearls for Pigs.

For this year's mini-festival of Foreman, Austin has chosen a piece of text titled Year 2000. Embedded within the piece are words that Austin has instructed this year's artists to concentrate on: "opaque," "paradise," "stage fright," "language," "trembling," "head." China also makes a return to the pot, sans Roly Poly.

The artists have been allowed one week to concoct some Foremanesque response to Austin's orders, and each piece must come in at between five and eight minutes. Among the participants will be Hand2Mouth Theater, Tiffany Lee Brown, Tina Satter, Merril Lynn Taylor and Jessica Wallenfels.

Austin herself will perform this year, as well as serving as compère. "Some of the performers are new to me," says Austin. "But last year, too, was a mix of the known and unknown. It made things interesting."

True. In fact, it was a marvelous encounter, at times, with the inexplicable.

The Second Annual Richard Foreman Mini-Festival

Performance Works NorthWest, 4625 SE 67th Ave., 777-1907. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, Aug. 20-21. $15-$30 for one show, $25-$50 for both shows.