Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mad Forest by Carnegie-Mellon University

"Mad Forest" by Caryl Churchill is an exploration of the Romanian Revolution which took place in 1989. Largely eclipsed by the more peaceful revolutions of Eastern Europe, including the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the Romanian Revolution resulted in the death of thousands of men, women and children.

The Carnegie-Mellon Production, as the play was intended, is a naturalistic production. After all, the bizarre reality of Communist Romania is fascinating enough on it's own, however, this does make for a very slow-moving production. The play itself is honestly built to be slow-moving, some scenes are little more than images, some are just episodes from everyday Romanian life and the plot switches direction frequently. This is not a statement on the quality of the acting, which is superb in it's realism, but honestly, if someone in real life would actually linger in taking off their shoes after a long day of work, do we really have to watch it onstage?

The ensemble cast never rests, playing a constantly growing band of characters. As stated, the entire production is steeped in realism. However, there is multi-media section of the play where the performances really stand out - and they are extraordinary. The play breaks for interviews Churchill took with actual Romanian students who were there at the outbreak and aftermath of the revolution. The actors onstage portray the students onscreen telling their stories. These film segments were the most riveting part of the entire evening because of the sheer reality the actors were able to bring to the characters.

As whenever a show is set in another country, someone inevitably asks, "Well, how were the accents?" When accents are utliized in ther performance, they are superb. However, it seems very unfortunate that when the characters are "speaking Romanian" to each other they drop any accent and speak with an American dialect. It seems a waste, and somewhat takes the audience out of Romania.

The set at the Carnegie-Mellon University's production reflects the concrete cinderblock uniformity of the Communist era. However, what is really fascinating about the show is the sound design. Communist anthems, sometimes remixed, are heard throughout - as they surely were by the Romanian people - but, at key moments, gives way to heartbeats, crowds, which all enhance the feelings of panic, suffocation, fear portrayed by the actors onstage. Lighting elements keep Communist imagery held high over the heads of the actors, even in complete darkness, reminding everyone what the ever-looming threat is.

The cast, as stated before, are every amorphous, and brilliant performances are seen throughout. Some particularly memorable performances, which often were made in a very short amount of time include Annie Heise, as the Girl Student and Dead Grandmother, Denver Milord as Boy Student #2 and Patient and the constantly fluctuating Abdiel Vivancos as the Priest and Vampire.

- The Eponymous Theatre Critic keeps a second home in Moskva. Which, granted, is not Romania and is about three or four countries away, but is close enough to make Epony an expert on least by comparision to most theatre critics.