Complex plays dare audience to confront complacency

Since last Tuesday, UM’s Herman Ring Theatre has been the host to two eclectic shows: Caryl Churchill’s “Mad Forest” and Suzan-Lori Parks’ “The America Play.” Billed as “Provocative Plays, Powerful Dramas” by the theatre’s program, these adaptations certainly fulfill this promise by challenging the audience to contemplate the performances offered to them. Both plays are reflective and fragmented, and the resolutions only make sense when the plays are viewed as a whole.

Director Maha McCain adapts “The America Play” to coincide with Black History Month, addressing the unawareness of black history in our nation. The two-act play introduces the audience to the Foundling Father (played by Amir Abdullah), a likeable black individual who discards his old job as a gravedigger to embrace his likeness to Abraham Lincoln and make a living from it. The theatrical attraction offers the Foundling Father as a substitute to Lincoln, allowing the public to re-enact the assassination for just a penny.

McCain skillfully uses the intimate setting of the Herman Ring Theatre to focus on the breakdown of the Foundling Father. Despite the play’s deliberately fragmented structure, the confluence of the staging and theatrical effects, including the use of televisions, unites the central issues of the play concerning identity. The play’s fast-paced, sketch-like transitions are sure to confuse some audience members, but once accepted the play is entertaining and comical, profoundly illustrating the undertone of neglect in black history.

“Mad Forest,” directed by Stephen Svoboda, delves into the 1989 revolution in Romania during the totalitarian regime of President Nicolae Ceausescu. The play is structured in a three-act form, taking place before, during and after the revolution. While the first and third act depict the story of two families, the central act is a documentary-style scene that overwhelms the audience with interviews with the public during their time in the revolution.

The fractured style of the play consists of singing and supernatural figures, which are all ably performed by the cast. Svoboda’s clever theatrical staging works well with the story, in particular during the wedding scene which is literally in slow motion.

The play encompasses countless roles and short scenes announced in Romanian, illustrating the play as a drama and reaffirming that it is not a realist dramatization. From its chilling beginning, the play takes the audience through a plethora of emotions while emulating the chaotic time of the revolution for the citizens and the country as a whole. Svoboda successfully delivers a play alive with alienation techniques to make the audience think about the political side of the story instead of getting too emotionally involved.

Both productions currently playing at the Ring Theatre include talented UM students tackling difficult concepts, which they pull off with maturity. These plays aim to influence the complacency of youth today, and both do a great job of attempting to aid the progression of individuals’ mind. So, if you aren’t afraid to take a small step to confront the difficult, go watch these plays and challenge your student brain. You may just be pleasantly surprised.

Performances continue until this Sunday and show times can be found at:

Gemma Dempster may be contacted at