By Adrian Sands ’15
Viewing the spring production of Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest was like watching Inception for the first time: complex and confusing. When it opened on May 18th, the play presented a story about life in Romania before, during, and after the revolution with dictators Nicolai and Elena Ceausescu.
“The play is a little avant-garde and anarchic,” says Director Mark Lindberg. “When you’re working on it, you’re thinking, ‘Why the hell did I do this? But I love the piece.’”
The first and third acts of the three-act play follow the lives of two fictitious families, the Vladus and the Antonescus, during and shortly after the Romanian revolution of 1989. The first act culminates with Lucia Vladu’s (played by Larysa Hrabowych ’14 ) marriage to Wayne (Alec Gustafson ’15), an American, much to the disapproval of her family and friends.
The second act consists of a series of first person accounts of working-class Romanians between December 21 and 25–when the Ceausescus were overthrown and killed. This section was based on real interviews conducted by the playwright, original director, and ten Romanian acting students who worked on the original project.
The third act showcases a narrative of the two families after the revolution. Much of the play takes place in a hospital, where a bitter Gabriel Vladu (David Markey ’14) recovers from a wounded leg with the support of his family and wife Rodica (Shayna Goldberger ’14). The play ends with the marriage of Radu Antonescu (Aaron Orbey ’14) to Florina Vladu (Jillian Sun ’15).
The plot is so complex that even some of those working on the production had trouble following it.
“I had no idea what was going on until the third time we went through it,” says Albert Wakhloo ’15, one of the technical crew members. “I think the acting was good, the directing was good, and the staging was good, but I don’t know why [Mr. Lindberg] chose such a challenging play.”
The audience laughed at moments where the line between funny and shocking was blurred, such as when a doctor (Alex Medzorian ’15) opened a scene by telling Lucia, without a hint of emotion, “You’re a slut,” or when Lucia’s boyfriend, Ianos (Jake Kuhn ’13), was thrown to the ground in a fight scene.
There were also scenes with no dialogue at all. This, according to Mr. Lindberg, was part of the attraction. “There’s a scene where the narrator just says ‘The people are buying meat,’” Mr. Lindberg explains, “and they just stand there. Nobody says anything. They’re just waiting in line, waiting to buy meat. And I love that.”
Before the show went up for an open dress rehearsal on Thursday, May 18, followed by two performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, the actors were optimistic about the play’s reception.
“The people who like it will really like it,” Aaron Orbey ’14 said before the first performance. “I think some people might be really confused by it, but that’s not always a bad thing.”
“You’ll have some people who’ll say, ‘I don’t get it,’ and leave during the intermission,” said Mr. Lindberg. “But for the people who stay with it, there’ll be real rewards.”
After the performances, the audience was buzzing with positive response, particularly from students.
“It was a really powerful show,” says Zoe Burgard ’12. “I think it was great that such a young cast pulled it off so well.”
“I liked it,” says Peter Ferraro ’15. “It was unique.”
Mr. Lindberg was especially impressed with the actors’ ability to bring life to a piece as unusual as Mad Forest.
“I told them early on that very few people were going to look forward to seeing the Romanian revolution. It’s not an upbeat musical, it’s a provocative piece of theater,” he says. “They’re bright young kids. They have real enthusiasm for the material. It’s not always easy for them because it’s not a crowd pleaser. It’s so hard to do. It’s really demanding of the cast and the audience.”
The actors felt that Mr. Lindberg was similarly demanding of their acting. “He’s awesome, very energetic,” says Laura Ancona ’14, who played Flavia Antonescu. “He makes good comparisons to show us what the play’s about. He’s good at pushing you in the right direction and showing you what you need to do.”
According to Mr. Lindberg, the timing of the performance was, in part, a reaction to the series of revolutions that occurred in the Middle East in the last year.
“It’s about the difficulties of revolution,” says Mr. Lindberg. “This was an earlier version of the Arab Spring. It’s really also about younger people declaring that the world older people made has to be reshaped. It’s a time when really rigid, anti-human governments are being challenged, often by young people.”