‘Forest Treas’ (actually pronounced Forest Triage), the world premiere now playing at Pointless Theatre, is an interesting exploration of an almost-Stepford-type of a community shaken out of its complacency as the “safest neighborhood in the country.” Provocatively staged in the theatre space at Dance Loft on 14th, this study of one neighborhood’s reaction to the DMV sniper shootings in 2002 hits and misses at the same time.
It’s an interesting, thoughtful show.
Forest Treas evidently comes to life every morning at 7 a.m. as they have a recording studio in the neighborhood and Mr. Chylle (a grandfatherly David S. Kessler) gives a brief recap of news and weather but is focused on peppy bromides that he coined as a now-retired children’s TV personality. It’s heartfelt and creepy at the same time. Everybody is so very positive at Forest Treas when in public; and they’re very bland and so happy to live in the safest neighborhood.
Then comes Roberta (Lee Gerstenhaber), a photojournalist/web journalist that is looking for a new gig, drinks too much (stereotypes, anyone?), is burned out in her twenties, and underneath is looking for a community to accept her. Roberta is not one of the shooters but her actions will impact the community almost as much.
For some never-fully-explained reason Chip (Timothy Thompson) has hired her to interview some of the homeowners. His co-leader or assistant, Hiba (Sara Herrera) is a complete cheerleader for the community, and very, very good at organizing once someone has made a decision. She’s a born club woman.
One of the most frightening characters is the very healthy speed walker (Acacia Danielson); with her fixed grin, determined constant walking and seemingly close to the edge of hysterics persona, you can actually see how fragile her hold onto any kind of surety is. Oddly enough, the big threatening guy (played beautifully by Eric Swartz) has one of the most nuanced roles—he’s somewhat taciturn, and yes, he has guns in his house and has set up a watch (his family home is on the top of the hill) on the roof of his house to keep watch, and may go for a few weeks without enough sleep, but he is the neighbor genuinely afraid for the community at large.
So into this rickety, but very pretty structure crashes first Roberta, and then the shooters. During the weeks of the shootings, we see the neighborhood come to the realization (just like in 2002) that this is the work of a serial shooter and watch their world(s) start to crumble. In a desperate bid to restore some of that community safety feeling, Roberta proposes that they set up cameras at points around the neighborhood, stream them all to a control center, and broadcast it all on the web, so that nothing can happen, since they’ll be live on camera at all times. Tellingly, during her time in the community, Roberta has moved from the hotel to Hiba’s spare bedroom.
Obviously, this is going to have unintended consequences. Probably the best, and funniest, consequence is that Speedwalking Lady gets a lot of followers, and starts branching out her walking to a mall and such; she has hundreds of people “walking” with her, and the joy in her face is both sweet and a little off-putting. It’s almost evangelical.
But the more serious consequences come with the realization that they have put targets on their backs and are changing their behaviors. They are starting to lose themselves as a community, starting to fold up into little individualized units, and it shows in the bitter fight over whether or not to cancel the annual fun run before Halloween.
The major buildings of the neighborhood are cunningly depicted in miniature, raised on lightweight plinths that can be moved around. They take up the center portion of the stage; stage right is a hotel room on a raised platform that is Roberta’s base; on stage left, the raised platform holds the neighborhood’s family-owned gas station, represented by a big pump. The individual elements of the set work fairly well, but the layout is a bit awkward for the audience not dead center.
The actors do a fine job with their characters, but they often seem more like stand-ins for types, rather than people. The script by Navid Azeez is a taut 90 minutes and treats the victims with respect (at each community meeting, the names are read—the list growing longer each time). Each time there is another shooting, strobe lights and loud banging noises send the cast to the floor seeking shelter; the randomness of these interludes works well.
This is a show that strives to capture the feeling of a “younger” DMV that was abruptly schooled in the random violence of a sniper that seemingly had a taste for it. It asks us to look at and understand that those things that we think give us immunity—good schools, active neighborhood civic association, money, our good intentions—may be a nice cushion for a little while, but we’re all vulnerable as a community. So maybe we need to find strength as a community. It’s an interesting, thoughtful show.
Show Advisory: Strobe lights; gunshots.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
To enter the show, you cross the stage; once the audience is in, the doors are shut and there is no leaving and no re-entry and no late seating.
“Forest Treas” runs through June 29, 2019, by Pointless Theatre, at the Dance Loft on 14th, Washington, DC. For more information, please click here.