Catastrophic Theatre’s years in the making production of Richard Foreman’s Paradise Hotel debuts at Diverseworks on Friday February 11. In the show’s press kit co-director Greg Dean describes the Houston interpretation of the play as “like sitting in on someone’s dream; like a hallucinogenic trip.” He goes on to describe Foreman’s writing as “metaphysical vaudeville or philosophical burlesque.”
Neither Dean nor co-director Troy Schulze are new to Foreman’s work, both have previously helmed versions of Foreman’s plays in Catastrophic’s predecessor Infernal Bridegroom Productions. In the 1990s Dean directed Samuel’s Major Problems and Eddie Goes to Poetry City, which featured Emmy Award winning actor Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory fame. In 2004 Schulze co-directed the critically acclaimed 2004 production of Symphony of Rats.
Despite the directors’ familiarity with the work, this production raises some unique problems. Catastophic’s press release describes the play as not being “driven by a familiar narrative pattern, but by a series of situations that are constantly being interrupted.” Jason Nodler, artistic director for Catastrophic Theatre, falls back on dreams to describe the play.
“It literally is watching people play out a dream, it is hyper real,” said Nodler. “It makes no attempt to be realistic, except in emotional moments.” The quality of dreams is something that resonates deeply with Nodler, and in a case of guilt-by-association with the rest of the Catastrophic family.
“We’re not getting at universal truths; we’re trying to show nightmares. Or at least dreams,” said Nodler.
For the uninformed, Nodler and company have been the darlings of the Houston art scene for the better part of the last two decades. When IBP was founded in 1993 they helped make Houston theatre dangerous again. They staged productions in places that ranged from restaurants to bars to moving vehicles to abandoned shopping malls. Not only were the locations politely described as “out of the way” but the plays themselves were often considered unusual. Nodler describes them as being about “how weird it is to be a human animal on planet Earth.”
If one tries to find an overarching theme in the works chosen by Nodler and his collaborators, one would of course fail, for the productions have ranged from classics, like Othello, to performances of work by local playwrights. However, Nodler stated that one of the things that informed the plays IBP chose to perform, and continues to inform the decision of what plays Catastrophic chooses to create, is the idea that “as a human animal we face a catastrophic identity crisis.”
“As a rule to participate in polite society we have to repress our instincts and it makes us crazy,” Nodler continued. “Theatre is a place where we’re allowed to indulge those emotional states of being.” He then went on to describe the emotional state of being that he wishes to create as one of “hurt feelings,” he draws a clear distinction between humanist theatre and catastrophic theatre as outlined by the theorist Howard Barker.
“When the audience leaves humanist theatre they are happy, when they leave catastrophic theatre they are disturbed,” said Nodler. The idea of disturbing and being disturbed is something that Catastrophic theatre and Foreman have in common. In a 1999 interview with the Village Voice, which Catastrophic excerpted on their website, Foreman said, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve profoundly felt that something’s wrong with the world. Something’s wrong with me. Something’s wrong with everything.”
Or to put the actions in Paradise Hotel another way, “there’s no apparent rhyme or reason [for them], that’s why I fucking love Foreman,” said Nodler.