The performance I saw of Butler University Theatre’s Mad Forest was billed as a preview and was still not fully grounded. But here's why you should still see it.
First, the playwright. Caryl Churchill’s name often comes up when I ask other playwrights who has influenced them. I was fascinated by her staccato writing style when the Phoenix produced her Drunk Enough to Say I Love You back in 2008. Mad Forest fascinates me, too, particularly its structure.
It has three acts. The first and the third are composed of several vignettes related to two weddings in Bucharest. One takes place before the Romanian Revolution in 1989, the other afterwards. The middle act includes several people briefly telling their own experiences of the revolution. There's also a scene with a sleek vampire and an adorable dog to add another layer of meaning and metaphorical contrast to the reality-based stories. Somehow it all works.
Whether or not you are interested in this particular revolution, there's interesting food for thought about political “wagging the dog” in general.
The ensemble includes fifteen Butler students under the direction of Professor William Fisher. Although some were not yet confident in their English lines, all seemed comfortable speaking the Romanian that introduces each vignette. The play opens with the cast standing together like a clump of densely-planted trees and singing beautifully in Romanian. There's some wonderfully executed dance/fight choreography later on.
The Lilly Hall's Black Box Theatre is arranged for this show to have audience on all four sides of a central stage. Rob Koharchik’s set features a large, circular base that rotates the actors and a few simple pieces of furniture, which enhances the unsettling feeling of a revolution. Other design elements — costumes by Teka England, lighting by Julia Levine, sound by William Fisher — are also well chosen.