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`Mad Forest' Resounds in Oregon

MAD FOREST Drama by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Fontaine Syer.

At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

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THE past five years have been a time of revolution. In Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, China for a brief moment, and more recently, Somalia and Haiti, people revolted against political systems. But revolutions have also taken place in the thoughts and actions of individuals and families.

Life-wrenching questions arise, such as: Where does one fit into the confusion and turmoil? What should one hold onto or discard? How much responsibility must one bear for the causes and outcomes of violent disruption in one's homeland?

These questions are at the heart of Caryl Churchill's ``Mad Forest,'' currently finishing up its 3-1/2 month run as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 1993 season.

The play is set in Bucharest before, during, and just after the 1989 fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania. The story focuses on two families - the Vladus and the Antonescus - as they try to cope first with Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally despotic wife Elena, and then with the aftermath of revolution, in which each must confront his own complicity.

The complexities of the situation are seen in the two families: One seems to support the regime before its overthrow, at least for appearance's sake to maintain relatively secure jobs. The other family quietly resists. And yet there are elements of complicity and resistance, bravery and cowardice in both.

After the Ceausescus are tried and executed, both families confront a difficult future where they will lack the basics of a comfortable and secure existence. They must also come to terms with the tendency to use the Ceausescus as scapegoats for every misery.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival brings to ``Mad Forest'' strong and certain direction by Fontaine Syer, exceptional casting, and rich performances. The production is one of the best and most provocative in OSF's season.

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Often, the message and the moment are movingly conveyed in silence, as early in the play when Robynn Rodriguez as Florina Vladu spends several long minutes painfully scraping into a cup a precious egg that her father has smashed on the floor. Or when the 11 actors wait resignedly in line to buy meat. Here, body language is a powerful communicator.

As the recent turmoil in Moscow has shown, throwing off the most obvious political constraints is just the first of many difficult steps toward freedom and democracy, which is why ``Mad Forest'' is particularly timely four years after the events it depicts.

* The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the country's largest repertory theater organization with audiences of more than 300,000, recently announced its 1994 play schedule. On the outdoor Elizabethan stage: William Shakespeare's ``The Tempest'' and ``Much Ado About Nothing,'' plus ``The Two Noble Kinsmen,'' a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher. In the larger indoor Bowmer Theater: ``You Can't Take It With You'' by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, the American premiere of Allan Cubitt's ``The Pool of Bethesda,'' Shakespeare's ``Hamlet,'' ``Fifth of July'' by Lanford Wilson, and Jean Anouilh's ``The Rehearsal.'' In the intimate Black Swan theater: ``Tales of the Lost Formicans'' by Constance Congdon, ``Oleanna'' by David Mamet, and George C. Wolfe's ``The Colored Museum.'' The season opens February 25, 1994, and runs through October.

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