There are all kinds of crackling tensions permeating the intense tale of Mad Forest, a powerful, at times even mesmerizing season opener from Red Deer College theatre studies.
Additional shows run Oct. 19th-22nd in Studio A. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. There is also a matinee Oct. 22nd with curtain at 1 p.m.
Penned by Caryl Churchill and directed by Thomas Usher, Mad Forest, which was written in 1990, is about an uneasy spirit is brewing in the people – and in December 1989 it begins. The three acts occur shortly before, during and shortly after the Romanian Revolution of 1989.
Even as two families are connected through the wedding engagement of their children in Romania, “There springs a parable for revolutions to come.”
Each part is supported by an extremely talented cast, who play multiple roles as the story unfolds. But where they truly shine is during the second part, where we hear a range of characters relate their experiences during that chapter.
Churchill spent time there following those crushing, turbulent times interviewing a number of people, and has captured all kinds of perspectives on what people really went through.
Meanwhile, the first act is set in Communist Romania, several months before the Revolution, and establishes an atmosphere permeated by the Securitate (Romania’s secret police), in which one young woman’s engagement to an American draws scrutiny on all of her family and associates.
The second act recounts the events of Dec. 21st –Dec. 25th, 1989 in Bucharest.
The third act engages matters such as Romanian perceptions of the Hungarian minority and conflicting views as to the nature and realities of the events of December 1989.
Ultimately, Mad Forest is memorable partly because of its uniqueness – Churchill’s writing style is remarkable, capturing a rising but subtle intensity which reaches some shattering conclusions. It’s not always immediately obvious what is happening, but the emotions and sub-text tell the story.
Other parts are quieter but just as powerful – the strengths of the play surface mainly due to its honesty. It feels uncluttered and simple in structure at times, but that doesn’t for a minute take away from its ability to move an audience. There are moments when one can’t believe this all happened just shy of 30 years ago – and it’s a reminder for folks to consider what so many in this world really have to endure – harsh stretches of oppression and fear.
And as Usher explained during a chat prior to the play, what about those times after such an explosive time of revolution? How do you readjust to a world that, while it may hold new paths to explore, is just plain different from what you have known before? How do you get on with your life?
It’s not like the insecurities and tensions fade away in an instant – there is much to analyze and assess in what really is a ‘new’ world. That’s ultimately one of the messages of this play.
Usher never fails to bring out the finest in his actors. And he also never fails to put his own unique stamp on whatever he directs – the play may come from a world away, but it still, in a very real sense, ‘belongs’ to Usher.
As mentioned, the cast brings their best to each role they cover, and another ‘star’ of the show is lighting designer Patrick Beagan. I’ve rarely seen a show where contrasts play such a role, particularly during the second act where soldiers walk in and around the characters – they are in light, then they are in murky shadow. The effect is striking and adds to the haunting, lingering portions of script we are simultaneously hearing from the actors.
Carrie Hamilton has also designed the perfect set, capturing that sense of drab coldness that brings to mind images of Eastern Europe that existed at one time.
Mad Forest isn’t a particularly easy play to just sit back and watch. It’s challenging, and thought provoking all right, but it’s also a tad hard to follow at times particularly in the first act. Maybe it was just me, but I had read of a critic who had praised the play but noted it had, “rough edges.”
That said, it’s still very much worth a look and serves as a compelling opener to what looks to be a solid theatre season for RDC.
For ticket information, visit www.blackknightinn.ca.