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Review - The Singing Forest: Postscript To A Kiss

"Sometimes life just is preposterous, you know," screams a frustrated character trying to get another to believe his corner of the jigsaw puzzle of interlocking plots in Craig Lucas' eclectically styled comedy/drama, The Singing Forest; a play that takes us from 21st Century New York to 1930s Vienna to 1940s London via urban romantic comedy, Holocaust drama, dysfunctional family angst, mistaken identity farce and a dash of that Lucas theatrical fantasy. Far funnier and more happily enjoyable than you'd expect, especially considering the horrifying imagine the play's title represents, The Singing Forest manages to examine issues of self-deceit and the limits of both forgiveness and accepting blame for one's actions.

Opening in the year 2000, octogenarian Loë Rieman (Olympia Dukakis) gets us started by lying her way into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (while sipping red wine from a Starbucks coffee cup) in order to give her own abrasive opinions on the day's topic, "Making Amends." To Loë, feeling shame prevents wrongdoing far more effectively than giving up your guilt to a higher power. ("'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.' Imagine if that had been the motto of the Allied Forces in World War Two.") Before the three act play is done we learn the extraordinary, and eventually preposterous, details of how Loë escaped the Nazis, became a noted psychiatrist, lost her practice and found a rather non-traditional way to keep using her analytical skills; all the while never feeling able to make amends for her past actions (and inactions) involving her older brother and two estranged children.

But first the mood gets lighter and funnier as we land in the office of Dr. Shar Ungar (Rob Campbell) who is explaining to a potentially new patient, Gray (Jonathan Groff), that a gay man seeking therapy is best served by a gay psychiatrist. The only trouble is that Gray, despite his girlfriend's suspicions, is really straight and even though he is seeking therapy, it's not for himself. He's really an actor who has taken on an unusual gig and sees the opportunity to parlay it into a get-rich-quick scheme. Lucas uses the lengthy play (about two hours and fifty minutes including the two intermissions) to gradually reveal the convoluted connected between Gray and Loë that somehow in the end all makes (reasonably) perfect sense in a world where there are, indeed, no coincidences.

To explain much more about the plot and the characters played by director Mark Wing-Davey's nine member cast (all but Dukakis play two roles as the story jumps decades) would rob readers of enjoying the care the author takes in letting details out in his own sweet time. But I'll tell you that Mark Blum dollops out fun eccentricities as an analyst plotting an unusual revenge, Susan Pourfar nicely shows a younger Loë growing from a rambunctious adolescent to an educated socialite, and Pierre Epstein, given the unenviable task of making an underwritten Sigmund Freud believable, scores beautifully as Loë's elderly coffee-shop buddy, the only truly content character in the piece.

Dukakis, the only actor with a fully-developed character to play, solidly strides through the evening with the confident gait and the sardonic humor of a woman who experienced too much too quickly and intends to live the rest of her life on her own terms. Groff makes Gray amusing with earnest charm and innocence and does very well in a more solemn turn as a young gay man living in dangerous times.

Wing-Davey impressively keeps the transitions between the play's assortment of styles (there's a quietly done rape scene and door-slamming farce) smooth and unnoticeable. John McDermott's sliding panel set, the urban flashiness of Japhy Weideman's lights and the cacophony of John Gromada's original music and sound design during scene changes serve as reminders of another kind of singing forest; the clamor of a city filled with preposterous possibilities.

Photo by Carol Rosegg: Louis Cancelmi, Olympia Dukakis, and Pierre Epstein

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