Presented at 141 Wooster Street, New York City, April-May 1974. With Kate Manheim (Rhoda), Nora Manheim (Eleanor), Mimi Johnson (Ida), Stuart Sherman (Max), and Hanneke Henket (Sophia). In Richard Foreman: Plays and Manifestos, edited and with an introduction by Kate Davy. New York: New York University Press, 1976, pp. 195-206.
This play concerns itself with a certain kind of energy that is the energy that most people use most of the time. (I.E. the wrong energy).
“Once upon a time a young woman from the Provinces came to the city to try and gain fame as a great artist. Upon meeting the leading paintress of her day, she realized that to replace that talented lady in the public’s eye would be difficult indeed. In the meantime, a man of culture and breeding suggested she fill the time between dream and achievement by helping to give physical form to certain fantasies which in that gentleman’s mind sometimes related to art and sometimes didn’t. She agreed, rationalizing to herself ‘Oh well, it’s all in the mind, isn’t it…?'”
–Ancient French fable
Program note for Pain(t)
Kate Manheim joined the Ontological-Hysteric Theater in December 1971 as an angel in HcOhTiEnLa (or) Hotel China, but with the next production, 1972’s Sophia=(Wisdom) Part 3: The Cliffs, she made her debut as Rhoda, a recurring character who came to serve as an on-stage surrogate for Foreman himself (at least, certain parts of him). Perhaps the most important quality that she brought to Foreman’s work was an intense female erotic energy, an energy that profoundly informed the 1974 play Pain(t), one of Foreman’s first works to foreground artistic creation and the artist-performer-spectator dynamic.
One of the central themes of the play, the tension of distance and intimacy, ecstasy and suffering, in sexual and aesthetic relationships, emerges early on. This tension is implicit in the title of the play; in the first scene, Eleanor visits Rhoda in Rhoda’s studio, where she almost instantly gauges the intensity of artistic experience as both creator and spectator:
ELEANOR (Pause. Shows her arm.) Look. I got some paint on my arm.
RHODA (Shows elbows.) Wash your elbows.
ELEANOR No, I got it on the inside of my arm. (Turns her arm.)
RHODA How come.
ELEANOR That’s where the blood is.
As the play develops, Rhoda is more and more challenged by the effort of approaching her art and Eleanor as a potential lover, frustrated ever more by the impossibility of bridging the distance between intention and creation, telling Ida, “I can match each part of my body to a part of your body … It’s like looking into a mirror”; it’s also paralleled by sexual frustration, a frustration that doesn’t seem to affect Eleanor in the slightest as she takes Max for a lover. Rhoda is jealous, perhaps that she can’t replicate this erotic intensity in her art:
ELEANOR Oh Rhoda, if you came closer.
RHODA If I came closer I’d want to hurt you.
ELEANOR I’d want to hurt you too.
RHODA How come. (Pause.) Correction, we made a mistake including distance in it.
Pain(t), as it transpires, subjects the theatrical experience to the same anxieties as the sexual experience; experience and memory, for both Rhoda and the audience for Pain(t), become unreliable, and the ecstasy of a moment can disappear in the next moment, unrecoverable. The artist experiences a frustrating distance from her work (“There doesn’t seem any longer to be a relation between my paintbrush and the picture that comes out of it,” Rhoda says late in the play), and the audience is also forced away from the characters. In scene five, a “Voice” makes this explicit, noting, “Oh spectator, your relation is different to the body that is amongst you” as “beams extend Ida’s arms into the seating section where spectators are.” Extant photos of the production by Kate Davy and Babette Mangolte depict the extraordinarily sensual and erotic character of the production (a few of Mangolte’s can be found here and here), several of the female characters naked and wearing high heels, but the final moment of the production is a statement from Voice that pushes the audience even farther at arm’s (or beam’s) length, frustrating erotic longing and desire as well as aesthetic interpretation: “The play’s over. You’re left with your own thoughts. Can you really get interested in them or are they just occurring.”
A profoundly erotic and philosophical work, Pain(t) outlines the possibility (or threat?) of sexual and spiritual imagination to merge body and personality among lovers and between the subject and object of aesthetic experience; it may also have been the last of the plays of Foreman’s early minimalist period, before he explored more baroque staging techniques that would serve to emphasize his work’s essential sensuality. In Pain(t), lovers and artists and models alternately caress each other and violently fight with each other, and there is a melancholy resignation that the physical world as it is can’t permit the ecstatic possibilities of that sexual and spiritual imagination; those ecstasies occur on another, perhaps a higher, plane. Pain(t) may be the masterpiece of Foreman’s early career.