BWW Review: The Ohio State Department of Theatre Explores FORBIDDEN ZONES in New Devised Play
A new production presented by the Ohio State University Department of Theatre shows how history often extends past the printed pages of a textbook.
Forbidden Zones: The Great War is an original project conceived by Lesley Ferris, an arts and humanities distinguished professor of theatre at OSU. Featuring a cast of 17 students, the show stitches together stories inspired by a variety of primary sources to create a 90-minute play that explores the indelible impact and lasting legacy of World War I.
Surprisingly, given the pre-show trigger warning of graphic and violent content, Forbidden Zones begins with a lighthearted and quirky opening scene, which tasks the cast with anthropomorphizing European and Eurasian countries as they engage in a tense "family game night," complete with a rousing round of "Imperialization Twister" and piping hot pizza from Italy.
But rising tensions and a fight among countries swiftly sweeps away any remaining hint of amicable humor. In an instant, the stage is illuminated with a blood-red glow, filling the air with a palpable sense of apprehension as the mobilization of troops begins in France.
Surrounded by sheets of corrugated metal that are braced by wooden boards, the stage is sparsely decorated and simple, save for the digital screen that spans the back wall. Throughout the performance, it displays images of newspaper clippings, photos and artwork that correspond to the action on stage.
In the true collaborative spirit of a devised theater production, Forbidden Zones features dialogue that is not written by a single playwright. Instead, the words the audience hears are culled from archival material that members of the play's creative team discovered during their intensive research. In a whirlwind of scenes, actors lend their voices to messages crafted more than a century ago by individuals on the front lines. Reciting snippets of love letters and diary entries with a hypnotic, layered lyricism, they share intimate details of lives that are normally deemed too inconsequential to include in the broader historical narrative.
Indeed, Forbidden Zones excels in introducing its audience to the stories that are often glossed over when taking a macrolevel view of world events. The play gives a gritty, uncomfortable look at the Great War, but it also emphasizes the resilient spirit of humankind.
In the grisly mess of the battlefield, viewers meet Fred (Linnea Bond), a volunteer ambulance driver who goes from vomiting at the sight of blood to driving a van full of injured men to safety as airplanes attack from above. Across the sea in America, Addie Hunton (Kahla Tisdale), one of three African American nurses to serve overseas, somberly reflects on the treatment of her company's soldiers by their own countrymen. And in the muddy fields of no man's land between the trenches, a young soldier who simply goes by "kid" (Caleb Naugle) struggles to follow his moral compass while battling disillusionment with the world of war.
A serious and solemn production, Forbidden Zones masterfully melds research and artistic performance into an engaging and eye-opening experience.
Forbidden Zones: The Great War will be performed at Ohio State's Roy Bowen Theatre through April 9.
Ticket prices and other information can be found on the department's website.
The Roy Bowen Theatre is housed in the Drake Performance and Event Center, located at 1849 Cannon Drive on Ohio State's Columbus campus.