The Tenant of Paradise Hotel: Tony Torn Talks of Richard Foreman and 'The Dark Regions'

The Tenant of Paradise Hotel: Tony Torn Talks of Richard Foreman and 'The Dark Regions' Surrounded by a cluttered set that features gold, spray-painted cherub-like dolls, a giant gorilla hanging upside down from the rafters, other dime-store paraphernalia and, of course, the requisite strings surrounding the stage, Tony Torn stares out forlornly at the audience. A tape-loop of some old 1920s pop recording repeats itself menacingly in the background. The actor begins to rub his crotch. "Let's try to experience this unemotionally," he says in a flat, deadpanned voice.
First at left: Tony Torn with Jay Smith, Juliana Francis, and Gary Wilmes in Paradise Hotel.
First at left: Tony Torn with Jay Smith, Juliana Francis, and Gary Wilmes in Paradise Hotel. (Photo by Photo by: T. Charles Erickson)

Surrounded by a cluttered set that features gold, spray-painted cherub-like dolls, a giant gorilla hanging upside down from the rafters, other dime-store paraphernalia and, of course, the requisite strings surrounding the stage, Tony Torn stares out forlornly at the audience. A tape-loop of some old 1920s pop recording repeats itself menacingly in the background. The actor begins to rub his crotch. "Let's try to experience this unemotionally," he says in a flat, deadpanned voice.

Welcome to the sinister and often hilarious world of Richard Foreman's Paradise Hotel , a wild and wooly walk into the downtown auteur's sexual libido. Torn and his compadres (Juliana Francis, Tom Pearl, Jay Smith, Gary Wilmes and a variety of uncredited Lolitas) gamely jump into Foreman's id, simulating sex acts, shooting themselves in the head, wear giant phalluses and offering themselves in varying degrees of undress. The result is something a little different than the usual Foreman fare - though the heady intellectualism and in-jokes still abound, Foreman seems a little more willing to be lewd, to be risque.

"I think it's shockingly direct for Richard," says Torn, whose on-stage presence -- balding, rolly-polly, in red suspenders and tiny round glasses -- is more Goldman Sachs than East Village chic. Torn is a veteran of Foreman's work; he was the guy in the Beethovian white wig in Foreman's The Universe three years ago. So he knows of what he speaks. "It's an important piece for Richard in terms of his being a philosopher of the theatre and all that, but I also think that it's one of the funniest things he's ever done. It's full of this relentless bawdy humor."

Paradise Hotel 's grungy sexiness may also be Foreman's unconscious tribute to the work of the experimental theatre director Reza Abdoh. Abdoh, who died of AIDS in 1995, was known for his beautiful, apocalyptic theatre pieces of the late '80s and early '90s -- meditations on sex, violence and death (though not always in that order), full of both gorgeous and shocking images. Torn, along with co-stars Francis and Pearl, spent many years as a member of Abdoh's Dar A Luz company. "Reza taught me about commitment," he says of the six years he spent in the director's L.A. and New York-based company. "There's stuff he pulled out of me that I never dreamed I could do -- a kind of extreme behavior that's about having the highest level of commitment. And I also learned about technical ability that helps a lot when you're doing Richard Foreman's work."

Still, Torn cautions the viewer into reading too much into the Abdoh connection in Foreman's Paradise Hotel. "I had some concerns about this piece," he says of working with his old cohorts. "I didn't want it to turn into a nostalgia trip. And I was a little wary of doing work of a certain provocative nature. I was afraid it might have the aura of a reunion to it. But it has actually turned into a tremendously empowering experience." Torn comes from a theatrical lineage: His father is Rip Torn and his mother was Geraldine Page, and both his brother John and sister Angelica are actors (she is now on Broadway in Side Man). "It's kind of crazy," he says. "There's my father, who portrayed Richard III as Nixon, and then my mother's work, which was a whole different bag of tricks. And now with the rest of us, we pretty much cover the whole spectrum." (Currently, Torn is involved with his father's theatre company, Sanctuary Theatre Workshop, where he directs more traditional works like Synge's Riders to the Sea.)

When asked about what his father thinks of his experimental Off-Off Broadway performances, Torn laughs. "He's a big fan. He's smart enough to appreciate Richard's work. And he knows how committed I am to funky downtown work." So he's not the black sheep of the Torn family, doing all of this weird experimental theatre? "Nah," he says with a laugh. "I just consider myself the torch bearer for the dark regions."

--Stephen Nunns