Muhlenberg's production of "Mad Forest" offers innovative take on Romanian history
A member of the original New York production's creative team brings the story of the 1989 Romanian Revolution to the Lehigh Valley, April 24-26
As history unfolds in the Ukraine, Muhlenberg College Theatre and Dance presents the story of similar events from a quarter century ago. "Mad Forest," by award-winning playwright Caryl Churchill, set during the 1989 Romanian Revolution, plays on the Muhlenberg mainstage April 24-26.
Directed by Beth Schachter, "Mad Forest" captures the events of the 1989 Romanian Revolution through the eyes of many who experienced it. On the eve of the revolution, and under the pressures of a paranoid society with secret police, two families, one poor and one wealthy, struggle to survive the chaos and deprivations of Nicolae Ceaucescu's megalomaniacal Communist regime. A play of romance and politics, bookended by weddings, "Mad Forest" blends together documentary theatre and magical realism to explore the psychological landscapes of people trying to find freedom.
"'Mad Forest' tells the story of what happens when people who were once oppressed have the freedom to speak truthfully," says Schachter, who serves as chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at Muhlenberg. "It comments on the fragile nature of families and relationships in a very human way."
Schachter became familiar with "Mad Forest" when she served as dramaturg for the American premiere of the play in New York City in 1991. She has wanted to revisit the play ever since then.
"Working on that production gave me insight into what is going on underneath the words, and more importantly, underneath the silences," says Schachter. "This play clarifies what so often goes unsaid between people in difficult situations."
Shortly after the 1989 revolution, Churchill travelled to Bucharest with director Mark Wing-Davey and a team of students to interview eye-witnesses and experience post-revolution Romania first hand. While there, they lived with Romanian families and collaborated with Romanian drama students. What emerged was "Mad Forest," which premiered in London in 1990 and opened in New York the following year.
The Romanian Revolution refers to a series of protests and riots that took place in December of 1989 and led to the overthrow of Ceaucescu. Schachter hopes to bring these stories of revolution to a new generation.
"These stories have become particularly relevant in the last few months," Schachter says. "History is unfolding in the Ukraine, with remarkable parallels to 1989 Romania. It's not every day that you see world leaders toppled in a matter of weeks."
British playwright Caryl Churchill has been writing since 1958. She has received Obie Awards for her plays "Top Girls," "Cloud Nine" and "Serious Money," as well as the Obie Sustained Achievement Award. Churchill is known for artfully commenting on such controversial themes as gender roles, power struggles, and political conflicts throughout the world.
"Churchill's writing is fascinating because it is blunt and direct," Schachter says. "She is able to capture how these characters struggle to find their voices after a shift in power through the revolution."
"Mad Forest" also features a faculty spotlight performance by Holly Cate, who teaches acting at Muhlenberg. She plays a variety of roles in the show, including an angel, a grandmother, a dog, and a translator, among others. This will be Cate's sixth mainstage performance at the college in the past seven years.
"I love working on shows here because it is so much fun to play alongside students that I have had in class," Cate says. "I have always wanted to work on a Churchill play, so this is a great learning opportunity for me as well as for the students involved in the production."
Muhlenberg College is a liberal arts college of 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa. The college offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg's production program in the top ten in the nation, and the Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.
Performances of "Mad Forest" are April 24-26: Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for LVAIC students, faculty, and staff and for patrons 17 and under. The performance is intended for mature audiences.
Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown. Performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre