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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

The Forest Play: A new work by Taylor Bostwick

Or: “Everybody says they want a fairytale wedding; and yet, when I show up the curse the firstborn, I’m the bad guy.”*

The vows have been pledged, the cake cut and Darren and Christine have been joined in holy matrimony to the satisfaction of everyone (or very nearly everyone). Yet as the sunsets on the reception, nestled amongst an old and “enchanting” wood, things go from bad to worse and from worse to just farcical when some key guests, buffeted by the wake of the day and clinging to the flotsam of old loves, fears, and expectations drift away into the forest. There they become hopelessly lost, fall in love, confront their darkest wishes, their greatest failings, and find themselves acting out stories “older the sound of bells and snow on mountains.”**

The first, explosive taste one gets from biting into the cake that is The Forest Play work is its sense of humor. Caustic, surprising, winking-ly self aware, it blooms and thrives in zinger, deadpan-ity, and fantastic feats of schadenfreude that dabble in the shallows of absurdity but never quite lose a self possessed seriousness, Bostwick’s comedy would find good company in the likes of Joss Whedon and Nia Vardalos, and keep jest for jest flowing all night long.

But underneath that first explosive taste are the subtle tangy flavors of “smart”. In the colorful wedding guests she presents us with, Bostwick shows off a collection of clever and over-used romcom archetypes (over-used because they are clever) reconfigured into three-demential and human figures who slowly in themselves revert to the older figures of fairytale, folklore and mythology: maidens, mothers, knaves and knights; damsels and dudes in distress. And that vocabulary! That loquacious eloquence! Oh, how we drank it up! Dubbed in the readings a more cheerful Lemony Snicket, Bostwick’s dialog is alive with lively phrasings, quirky comments of a language and old mossy words that melt upon the tongue. But her masterstrokes are not her reconstructions of popular culture or ancient myth nor even skillful phrasings but taking these vital and complex her characters and leaving them to sore on a solo of sorrow facing, without a shred of deflecting humor, the uncompromising starkness of the woods without and the woods within. And then have a talking frog (or similar) try and cheer them up.

How fortunate for Bostwick then that she was able to net such a cast of worthies: the worthiest of tragical-comical-pastoral players. Emma Cadd (Tali, the best friend and former lover of the bride) was born to smile through tears and laugh through weeping, as she treads Tali’s tightrope of bitter barbs and crippling affirmation-pangs, while Fergus Inder (Blake, best man and all around handsome letch) oils himself in the most charming manner, though well up to the challenge of the thorny way placed before him. He also “freaks” most agreeably.

Laura Winters (Karen Calderone, mother of the bride), luxuriates in the poised conniptions of one recovering from the nerves of wedding execution, for whom being lost in the woods is small potatoes. Winters’s earnestness, tasting of no small dash of lunacy, added no end to the plays seesawing between absurdity and realism. Sadly Winters was largely confined to shouting at the ghostly Mr. Calderone, leaving us wanting more of her presence, much like her daughter Delia (played by Zoe Maltby) lost in the shadow of her sister and her sisters day.

As realistic (or at least as sympathetic) a depiction of youth that I’ve ever come across (rebellious and easy-going and commanding and insecure all at once) Maltby goes through every explosive squiggle the playwright demands of her with a masters brush: every tease and short tempered snap is accompanied by a fosse-leg-scratch here, a bitten lip there, carefully applied but never so painted on that we lose sight of the roiling mass of want that ticks Delia’s clock, nor so astute and stony face that she can’t convincingly run through the woods screaming either.

Ryan Bernsten (Grant, the hapless assistant and Delia’s companion) is a perfect compliment to Maltby’s intricacies, excelling as he does in honest and earnest and utterly believable over the topness. Grants attacks of anxiety and sudden strikes of suavity and off the wall energy, require great stamina to uphold and a great mind to keep them from being under par or merely excitable. And nobody, but nobody, can give as good a line reading, be it deadpan or off the far wall. Yet even this great humor will thaw and resolve itself into a dew when required as the poor beset and besotted lad deals with the struggles of putting himself through college, growing up alone and being picked on by Unicorns.

Adding a touch of sophistication to the proceedings, Victoria Cano (Marta, grandmother to the groom) is the last word in arch and the first in silver-chic, who under her cynical outlook and wintery blasts conceals a great deal of warmth and passion and honest anguish for the predicament she finds herself in, which Cano pours with great poise.

The heart of Marta’s problem, Freddy (played by Daniel Chenard) finds himself in the unenviable position of being her ex-lover and close a friend of her grandson. Chenard is Cano’s straight faced foil, carefully biting back retorts and corrections, maneuvering a fleet of tactics around the chess board of his conversation. So cool is his wit and so reflective his abasement that even if he were to ritually disembowel himself in the course of his quest, Freddy would still go out with the last wry word.

Janice Theard (Julie, Freddy’s new “plus one”) ably handles the difficult task of being painted the only sane member of the lost guests, while at the same time frantically looking for the secret “thing” that will undo the curse set upon her. Her own brand of urgency, the fearsome life-or-death stakes (the twin or negative of Winters’s madness) of finding her happy ending endear her to us, especially when Julie falls into her own fairytale and find herself no more a damsel in distress but a heroine working to save the lives of her fellow guests.

And finally there is Juanita Anderson playing Prospero and Ariel both of this seventy minutes traffic. To say more would be to open the door to all sorts of spoilers but I can report faithfully that she is a delightful, poised and wickedly sly as she acts as Bostwick’s goad, bamboozling her captives, killing her darlings all with nimble foot and knowing eye and a propensity to transformation into the most outrageous of threats and heartwarming of wonders.

Alas, nothing is perfect, and The Forest Play does need a little bit more growth, a bit more time to cool, before it can reach its full maturity and potential. The first act, though starting off with a bang and a guffaw and never letting up on us, is sometimes spotty with a contrived entrances and exits, a sense of “All right, lets shuffle this pair off, so you can meet this pair”. Exposition is a sticky wicket, but Bostwick manages to meld scenes so well later that it is entirely possible she’ll solve the problem. Similarly as the characters become more and more lost they, with some exceptions, mainly stay in a pairs or trios, entering plot vacuums independent of the rest of the ensemble. This, of course, is broken up by the end of the play, but a bit of mixing and mingling of problems wouldn’t go amiss. Aside from these unproblematic issues, which would only serve to gild the lillie, The Forest Play offers a delightful story of the mysteries of love (in all its forms) and the heartbreak and hilarity that attends.

Quoted from Anonymous; but whoever said it, I want to be them.

** Lifted from The 13 Clocks by James Thurber, whose sense of play matches Bostwicks very well.

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