Mad Forest

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Mad Forest: A Play from Romania is a play by English playwright Caryl Churchill. The three acts occur, respectively, shortly before, during, and shortly after the Romanian Revolution of 1989. The play is mostly written in English, but has several passages in Romanian, including having the cast sing Romania's national anthem, "Deşteaptă-te, române!".

The title alludes to a passage in A Concise History of Romania by Andrei Oţetea and Andrew MacKenzie that says that Bucharest stands on land that used to be an impenetrable forest "impenetrable by the foreigner who did not know the paths", known to "the horsemen of the steppe" as "Teleorman — Mad Forest" (see Codrii Vlăsiei).[1]

The play[edit]

The first act ("Lucia's Wedding") and the third act ("Florina's Wedding) are dramatic fictions. The second act ("December") is based on interviews conducted by the playwright, a director, and ten Romanian student actors.[1]

The first act is set in Communist Romania, several months before the Revolution, and establishes an atmosphere permeated by the Securitate (Romania's secret police), in which one young woman's engagement to an American draws scrutiny on all of her family and associates. The second act—using the same actors to portray an entirely different set of characters—recounts the events of December 21–December 25, 1989 in Bucharest. The third act, set largely in a hospital where one of the characters from Act I is recovering from injuries sustained during the fighting engage matters such as Romanian perceptions of the Hungarian minority and many conflicting views as the extent to which the events December 1989 and the rise of Ion Iliescu constituted a coup d'état versus a revolution.

While much of the play is naturalistic, it also includes several surreal passages: minor characters include an angel, a vampire, and a ghost.[1]

Performance history[edit]

In March 1990, commissioned by London's Central School of Speech and Drama, Caryl Churchill traveled to Bucharest with director Mark Wing-Davey and ten Speech and Drama students to research the play. They stayed with Romanian drama students and their families, and worked with about 40 Romanian drama students to develop the play. Wing-Davey even had the chance to interview a former Securitate agent, who became a character in the play. Within two months of their return to England it was in production.[2][3][4]

Although Churchill was already an established playwright—her plays, such as Top Girls had already played in the West End and on Broadway—it premiered on "a small stage in the Embassy Theatre in North London" performed by the Speech and Drama students. The following autumn it was staged at London's Royal Court Theatre. It had its [New York City]] premiere November 22, 1991 at the Perry Street Theatre.[2][3] The New York cast included Garret Dillahunt, Tim Blake Nelson, Jake Weber and Calista Flockhart.[5]

Critical views[edit]

The play received almost universally favorable reviews, although some felt it had "rough edges".[2] Frank Rich, reviewing the New York premiere, wrote, "There is nothing kneejerk about Mad Forest… a full 18 months after the London opening, the piece has not dated the way that newspaper accounts of the same history already have. … The technique of Mad Forest is elliptical and atmospheric … In Act III … paroxysms of xenophobia and paranoia … often seem even more frightening than the sullen episodes of repression that preceded them."[5]

Rich remarks that the "conventional political satire" in the early part of the play is later overwhelmed by "a more surreal form of theater": it introduces a vampire, an archangel who collaborated with the fascist Iron Guard in the 1930s, questions (initially through the vehicle of a paranoid character, but later through others) whether what occurred in Romania was a revolution or a putsch, and finally ends in "drunken revelry and sadistic, retributive violence."[5]


  1. ^ a b c Program, production of Mad Forest at the Penthouse Theater, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, February–March 2007.
  2. ^ a b c Gussow, Mel. "English Theater Quick on Political Trigger", The New York Times, 25 July 1990. p. C11.
  3. ^ a b Witchel, Alex . "'Mad Forest' comes to Perry Street", The New York Times, 13 September 1991. p. C2.
  4. ^ Bernstein, Richard. "Capturing History: From Coup to Stage", The New York Times, December 1, 1991. p. H6.
  5. ^ a b c Rich, Frank. "After Ceauşescu, Another Kind of Terror", The New York Times, 5 December 1991, p. C15. Accessible online; requires registration.