Mad Forest: Review


A visit to Lilly Hall these next two weekends will send you straight to 1989 Romania.

Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest, told in three acts, details the terror and passions of average citizens in Romania during a radical political shift.

In short, the audience will face three distinctive themes: corruption, revolution and confusion.

Although names such as Ceausescu may be unfamiliar to us (or even difficult to pronounce), we should be able to connect to the characters and understand the greater meaning behind their words.

The lack of connection is the inherent vice, then, in the Jordan College of the Arts’ production of Mad Forest.

The general rule in storytelling is that there are only so many mysteries an audience can put up with before they give up. With such a fast-moving script, laden with choppy scenes, everything must be portrayed purposefully.

The manner in which Churchill wrote the play requires actors to emphasize unfamiliar terms. In Mad Forest, however, we do not have direct exposition, a trademark of clever writing.

Any clue at all that can be given must be given, or else we are not sure where to focus. If we do not know what they are saying, we at least need an honest display of how characters feel about the given situations.

If we do not understand the politics, we need to, without a doubt, care about who is involved in the conflict.

Some actors in the production did not make eye contact when they delivered their lines. This problem was obvious to the audience because the setting was supposed to feel intimate.

Moreover, we cannot care about characters we do not believe and it is hard to believe a character who does not look their friends or family in the eye, or who speaks about love and hate in the same monotone.

From the very beginning, as it seems every character pretends to light a cigarette, we struggle to believe this world. There is, obviously, a fire hazard in actually lighting cigarettes on stage.

But putting out an unlit cigarette and proceeding to light a new one pushes an audience member past suspension of disbelief and into distraction.

Surely there is some sort of stage cigarette that can be purchased? Or else maybe we could do without the ubiquitous, phony cigarettes?

In addition, some actors donned an unusual speaking voice in attempts to fake an accent. Unfortunately, the accents were not consistent throughout the dialogue.

As a large ensemble cast, actors in Mad Forest play a variety of roles including dogs, vampires, mothers and students. Because of this, it seemed difficult for the actors to display range with their different personas.

None of the aforementioned characters should move or sound the same, yet, more often than not, the actors treated each character similarly. Whether this is an actor’s doing or a matter of direction is hard to decipher.

Many of the scenes in the first act are silent. For these scenes to have meaning, the audience has to be convinced of something specific each time. Each scene must mark a change or provide more information.

Instead, the plot was as rigid as train stops set in stone.

Certainly, rehearsing by definition is the process of plotting a show to its most minute detail. But the audience does not need to know this, nor do they want to know this. The audience wants every scene to look like a emotional roller coaster.

The second act consists of a series of intertwined monologues taken directly from interviews of Romanians involved in the revolution. The explicit storytelling helps the audience better comprehend the plot and makes the latter part of this act and the larger portion of the third act come alive.

Even with this increase in interest, there are several minor issues and holes that should be addressed.

For example, a character that claims to live on the mountains and “look like everybody else” is seen wearing tight leather and stilettos. Additionally, a character who uses a cane was utilizing it differently from scene to scene.

Despite the inconsistencies listed above, Teka England’s costumes were vivid and helpful in differentiating characters. This is of utmost importance in an episodic show like this with some actors double cast several times over.

Julia Levine’s lighting was sufficient. I feel that, occasionally, there were chances lost in the design. For example, lighting could have made fantastical scenes transformative from other locations.

Would the home of a lower class home be lit the same as that of an upper-class? Are ghosts lit differently than the living? To be fair, a nightmare sequence in the show utilizes several design elements beautifully—incorporating flashing lights with Rob Koharchick’s turning set and William Fischer’s clashing sound.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend this show. Reading through the director’s notes in the program will help you enjoy it more thoroughly. Performances by Emma Shafer and Sonia Goldberg are quite moving.

If you can ignore some of the problems, you will notice some of the brilliant lines that brings everything together in the end.

February 20, 21, 26, 27, and 28 have shows at 7:00 p.m. February 22 and 28 and March 1 have shows at 2 p.m. The cost for students is $5, for adults is $15, and for seniors is $10. Performances are in Lilly Hall, room 168.