Another Country Heard From: “Mad Forest” at Forum Theatre (21 cents)

With all my attention focused on the Holocaust and the problems of Communism in the Baltic countries, I have not thought about Romania in a while. Romania, south of the Baltic states, has had its own sordid history, which came to a culmination when long term Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was deposed in 1989 and, along with his wife, executed after a public, televised trial. British playwright Caryl Churchill provides us with her image of what happened in Romania in her play “Mad Forest”. “Mad Forest” has two acts, but three scenes. The first scene takes place when the country was living in fear under Ceausescu, when people were afraid to talk, when no one knew who was an informer, when the economy was falling apart and food shortages increasing, and when so many (perhaps in one way or another virtually everyone) wished the dictatorship would end. [A joke, told in the play: A young man drives down the street when his car is rammed by a car driven by a government security official. The young man is so upset at what happened to his car, he doesn’t care who was driving the other one. He yells at the security official and starts beating on his official car. Another driver sees what is happening, stops his car, and starts beating on the surprised official, who says “I know why the man I rammed is so upset, but why are you?” The man says, “Oh, excuse me, I thought the revolution started.”]. Throughout the pre-revolutionary chaos, of course, life goes on – family disagreements, marriages, petty prejudices.

The second scene takes place immediately after the end of the successful three day revolution. Participants (there are more participants than cast members) each give their impressions, and explain (or excuse) their roles. Everyone is so happy that the Ceausescus are history.

The third scene takes place months later – no Ceausescus, but what will come next? How real are the elections? How much can the new government officials be trusted? Why is everyone still economically struggling? Things seem as confused and chaotic after, as they were before. Throughout the post-revolutionary chaos, of course, life goes on – family disagreements, marriages, petty prejudices, threatening the meaning and success of the revolution.

This is an unusually structured play, which makes it complex to stage. Forum has done a marvelous job. The playwright, who is no stranger to politically inspired theater, obviously wants the audience to walk out thinking. This production clearly helps you to do that.

Strong recommendation to see “Mad Forest”, staged by Forum at the Roundhouse Silver Spring.

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