Mad Forest, by Caryl Churchill (1990), University of Alberta Abbedam Productions, Timms Centre for the Arts Second Playing Space, last performance Sunday Nov 18th 7:30 pm. $12 adults.
This play was set around the time of the revolution in Romania in late 1989. There are extensive program notes about the events of the revolution and about Nicolae Ceauşescu, but I still spent most of the intermission reading Wikipedia on my phone, because somehow this chapter of history didn’t really get into my long-term memory the way Tiananmen Square and the removal of the Berlin Wall did that year.
The play had three parts (three acts?). In the first and third acts, small segmented scenes told the stories of two families in a time just before the revolution and shortly afterwards. Many of the scenes were introduced by a performer walking across the stage pronouncing a language-study sentence in Romanian (I assume) and in English. The sentences sounded innocuous and typical of a language-study book “We are buying meat”.”We visit our grandparents on a sunny day.” “The dog is hungry” but they all described the subsequent scenes.
It wasn’t clear to me whether the characters from the first-third act narrative were in the second act, which was quite different in style. A large number of performers were recounting the events of the week of the revolution, in a documentary-like manner. Unlike the dialogue of the other narrative, in this act many of the speeches were delivered in idiomatic and accented English, which added to the impression that the playwright was reproducing stories told to her on her research trip to Romania right after the revolution.
The intermission happened right after the narrative of the revolution, so I was curious about what was still to come. What came next, apparently, was that things got more complicated. We found out more about the characters in Act 1, and about how the revolution and their involvements changed things for them. We became aware of resentments and prejudices about Hungarians, about gypsies, about people who might have been Party members or informers before the revolution, working class or professionals, orphans in orphanages and families who adopted them. We saw festive young people acting out the final moments of the dictator Ceauşescu and his wife. We heard a lot of speculation and gnawing persistence about the events of the critical few days, particularly what it meant that the power to the TV station had not been cut off, and it was my impression that none of those questions was answered.
There was also an odd interleaved scene between a vampire (come out of the mountains because of the blood of revolution) and an abandoned dog. I couldn’t decide whether it was funny, spooky, or poignant.
After seeing various conversations and interactions among the characters feeling their ways into life after the revolution, all the characters were on stage for a wedding-reception scene at the end, but this didn’t mean that their animosities had been resolved. There were fights, disclosure of secrets, and insults, until the mother of the bride called for dancing and everyone danced.
This was a student-run production with a large cast and crew, directed by Elana Bizovie. The Second Playing Space is a plain room (a black-box performance space), set up for this show with seats on risers on four sides. Most scenes were played either on a large central platform or near one of the corner entrances, with the Revolution narrative all in the centre with people running in and out and around.
For once I’ve managed to write up a show before the end of the run, so if this sounds interesting you can catch it Sunday night.