In A Forest, Dark and Deep

5/2015

Naked Goddess Productions proudly presents the Western Canadian premiere of the gripping play In a Forest, Dark and Deep by provocative and acclaimed playwright Neil LaBute. Directed by Jessie-nominated Tamara McCarthy, this production features Carlo Marks and Sandra Medeiros with an outstanding production team.

Intimate. Intense. Intriguing.

Secrets and layers unravel in this modern day Hansel and Gretel.

Director: Tamara McCarthy
Featuring: Carlo Marks and Sandra Medeiros
Stage Manager: Sarah Mabberley
Set Designer: Triane Tambay
Lighting: Graham Ockley
Sound: Matthew MacDonald-Bain

This is a Canadian Actors' Equity Association production under the Artists' Collective Policy.

Photography by Angelo Renai

Jo Ledingham, On The Scene

The potential for incest hangs over In A Forest, Dark and Deep like a huge thunderhead just waiting for lightning to strike. Once Bobby (Carlo Marks) comes into his sister’s lakeside hideaway (designed by Triane Tambay, lit by Graham Ockley), you can feel brother/sister sex in the air. If the production had a smell, it would be musky.

This is no Hansel and Gretel story. If you’re looking for light entertainment, playwright Neil LaBute (Dark Dark House, Shape of Things, Bash) consistently never provides it. In A Forest is a searing exploration of a relationship that swings ferociously to and from all points on the sibling relationship compass: carnality, conditional/unconditional love, rivalry, jealousy and the happy or unhappy familiarity of a shared past.

Ably directed by Tamara McCarthy for Naked Goddess Productions, it’s an excellent vehicle for two actors and an emotional rollercoaster – more intensity than some theatregoers will be able to withstand. LaBute has been called “American theatre’s reigning misanthrope” by The Village Voice and even LaBute’s wife says he writes to shock his audience. There’s plenty of shock in this forest and lots of words your mother forbade you to say.

But LaBute does deal with some material that doesn’t come up very often: the destructive – yet sexually arousing – effect of a promiscuous older sister on a younger brother. Betty (Sandra Medeiros) is, by most people’s definition, a slut. She’s been sleeping with anyone and everyone for years. Brother Bobby caught Betty, age fifteen, fellating one of her teachers who subsequently lost his job, his wife and his family. Her behaviour continued even after her marriage to Bruce, although she took a break until she discovered he was sleeping with his secretary.

She’s not only promiscuous, she’s an irredeemable liar. And a sort-of Christian. Is sleeping with one of her college students actually against God’s law? She has to ask?

LaBute, unfortunately, gives only scraps of back-story – not nearly enough – to explain Betty’s rampant sexuality. Maybe Dad didn’t love her enough. Maybe dad was having sex with her. So all we’re left with is: Betty’s a bad, bad girl. The play, therefore, is drenched in misogyny.

Brother Bobby’s no saint, either. He’s coarse, abusive, would definitely have sex with Betty if she’d let him and despite the integrity he boasts about having, when the truth finally comes out, he has none.

Medeiros and Marks are fantastic together. There’s a lot for Medeiros to work with: Betty is a college teacher; she’s articulate, beautiful, trendily dressed in ripped jeans, an off-the-shoulder sweater and suede boots. Medeiros’s character has a journey to take. There are ups and downs and Medeiros makes all the right moves – sometimes convincing us Betty is a paragon of virtue; at other times, that she’s just a bitch in heat. Medeiros does a sexy boody-shaker that, if Bobby weren’t already hot for her, he soon would be.

Bobby comes in already a little boozed up and ready for a fight. And he escalates from there. Marks ends up yelling on enough occasions to keep your stomach tied up in knots. And he maintains an element of physical menace that keeps us wondering when Bobby will completely lose it.

Terrific performances, both.

While I appreciate LaBute tackling tough subjects, I can’t say I like his work. In A Forest is emotionally charged theatre and I was engaged all the time. But there’s an indescribable something missing: does In A Forest, Dark and Deep have any redeeming value other than its theatricality? It ends up being a kind of thriller with the bad guys wondering if they’ve disobeyed the Ten Commandments. If not, it’s all okay. She’s a bitch and he wants into her pants. Ultimately, who gives a damn?

A. V. Testani, The Peak

From May 20–30, In a Forest, Dark and Deep brought intrigue and mystery to the Havana Theatre. Presented by Naked Goddess Productions and directed by Tamara McCarthy, the Western Canadian premiere of this show provided an intimate glance into the intricacies of sibling relationships.

The play, written by Neil LaBute, takes its inspiration from the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel, but is told in a modern setting. The play itself has an overall dark tone, with a plot based around characters Betty and Bobby attempting to untangle one another’s secrets. There is a definite vilification of both characters throughout the piece, with a strong emphasis on the darkness within Betty, a dean at a college who is married with children. Her brother, Bobby, seems both hero and antagonist as secrets are revealed throughout the narrative.

With such intricate writing comes a great level of difficulty for the actors involved. Both Carlo Marks (Bobby) and Sandra Medeiros (Betty) managed the task well.

Marks delivered a breathtaking performance: each discovery was met with an intense, engaging reaction. His interpretation of the brutish blue-collar carpenter was at once relatable and infuriating in the best possible way. All at once, his portrayal made one want to both slap him, and give him a cup of tea and a warm blanket.

Medeiros counterbalanced Marks quite well. Her portrayal of Betty was very engaging. However, I felt the character was missing a basic humanity and relatability, which may have been the fault of the writing, or of interpretation. Despite this, Medeiros gave a strong performance of her deep and flawed character.

The lighting, done by Graham Ockley, worked extremely well on the beautiful, intricate set designed by Triane Tambay. Even in the blackbox theatre of the Havana, the stage looked amazing at all times, the set effortlessly transporting the audience into a cabin deep in the woods.

An interesting use of parallelism shown through costuming comes about as Bobby removes a flannel button up shirt to reveal a grey tee, jeans, and brown work boots, in contrast to Betty’s more chic grey long-sleeve, expensive denim jeans, and heeled brown boots. At once, the characters reflected the flaws in one another, while also showing their stark differences.

The play speaks to the intense nature of relationships, and provides a commentary on the practice of manipulation. Questioning morality and the connections of familial bonds, In a Forest, Dark and Deep keeps audiences interested with its constant revelations as the narrative twists and turns. An exercise in exploring the dynamics of pain, healing, truth, and lies in a patriarchal culture, the play is certainly dark, and extraordinarily deep.

Ed Farolan, reviewVancouver

This is the Western Canadian premiere of this play directed by Jessie-nominated Tamara McCarthy, and featuring Carlo Marks as Bobby and Sandra Medeiros as Betty.LaBute's style is very language-oriented: terse, rhythmic, and highly colloquial. very similar to one of his favorite playwrights, David Mamet. Medeiros and Marks delivered their lines as LaBute would have wanted them to. It's a powerfuil play, and both actors did really good acting their roles as brother and sister in a love/hate relationship.

I was also impressed by the scenic effects: thunder and lightning, giving this isolated house in the forest a mysterious feeling. But the storyline was very good. LaBute knows how to keep us guessing and asking, "What's going to happen next?" That almost Hitchcock-like suspense, as Bobby probes into Betty's personal life, getting the truth from her.

She slowly confesses her crimes, but younger brother Bobby is there to help her out, despite their differences and different viewpoints on morality and life.

Very well-acted and directed. Kudos to the actors, director and production staff for a successful mise-en-scene.

Fun! Fun! Vancouver

If you're a fan of Labute's theatre of the dark and his examination of the uglier side of humanity, then you will not be disappointed with In A Forest, Dark and Deep. The story of secrets unraveling takes place in one 99 minute scene, with much kudos to the actors who carry out the work without a break. Sandra Medeiros plays Betty, the cold older sister who isn't what she appears, while Carlo Marks is electrifying as little brother Bobby determined to get to the truth using tools of misogyny, physical violence, and even seduction.

It's an anger-infused mystery that will have you unwrapping the layers with every step. The set, designed by Triane Tambay, converts the dingy back room of the Havana into a sleek modern day loft. The 80s soundtrack that plays throughout was somewhat distracting at points but the actors and the plot manage to successfully keep your attention on them.

Gillian Lockitch, ReviewsFromTheHouse.com

Vancouver, BC. While a thunderstorm rages over an isolated log cabin deep in a forest, siblings Bobby and Betty, come together ostensibly to clear out a tenant's property from the cabin. But this is no Hansel and Gretel story of innocent siblings threatened by a mean step-mother and a cannabilistic witch with a fairy tale happy ending. Instead it is a dark exploration of the truth and lies behind the emotions of an big sister-baby brother relationship, now connecting as adults.

Sandra Medeiros and Carlo Marks. Photo by Angelo RenaiBetty is an academic, an English professor and Dean at a small liberal arts college. As we learn, this is an unlikely status for her to have achieved based on her lifestyle during high school years; at least as seen through the lens of Bobby's memories. Bobby is a carpenter, who on the surface is a sexist, racist and homophobic, wife-beater but turns out to be Betty's savior and the one who has the stronger moral compass.

Director McCarthy, set designer Tambay after the performanceMy time constraints meant that I got to see a preview instead of opening night but Carlo Marks (Bobby) and Sandra Medeiros (Betty) were show ready. Triane Tambay designed a set that worked well in the narrow rectangular playing space of the Havana Theatre. I specially liked the effect of the window with the forest showing through. The sound design by Matthew MacDonald-Bain with lighting by Graham Ockley was very effective in evoking the storm outside that mirrored stormy bursts of suppressed violence in the sibling relationship.

Performed without an intermission, the show ran about an hour and forty minutes. There were several times when I felt they needed to pick up the pace in the sibling bantering when the words became a little too precious. But both actors were compelling to watch. Marks in particular has a powerful stage presence and was so relaxed and confortable in his role that he held my focus through much of the play.

However there are problems with LaBute's [s]cript that I am not sure could be overcome by direction or acting. Specifically both the two big reveals (no spoilers here) were overly predictable with the audience guessing well in advance what was to come. While this team did a great job with the material LaBute's dark commentaries on life make him one of my less favorite playwrights.

Stephanie Reynolds, Vancouver Vantage

What is it about Commercial Drive that fosters a sense of community and harmony between people? One obvious answer is the arts, which the Drive promotes with reckless abandon. The abundance of quirky cafes, meticulously designed storefront windows with vintage clothes, and eclectic galleries are littered up and down the street.

In the daytime, one place shows countless options for a lazy afternoon for a coffee with your aunt or an awkward encounter with a Tinder match. At nighttime, the Drive sits on the precipice and buzzes with suspension, of the mystery of what the night could become. Drinks, food, and theatre are all options for a great night, and Havana’s Restaurant with its accompanying theatre and intimate galley provide all three. I recently had the chance to attend Naked Goddess Productions’ In a Forest, Dark and Deep (written by Neil LaBute and directed by Tamara McCarthy) which was ideal entertainment for a balmy night such as this.

In a Forest opens with a quiet, middle aged woman named Betty (played by Sandra Mederios) who opens the door to a young working man named Bobby—who also happens to be her estranged brother (played by Carlo Marks). Like all siblings who never seem to get along, a fight ensues. The chemistry and conversation between the two characters is relatable, and as the rumours and past rivalries begin to fly, long-buried family secrets begin to rise to the top.

The twists and turns in the dialogue had a Flannery O’Connor feeling—each revelation quickly gave way to another, darker one. It was by no means a comedy, but kept the audience on the edges of the seat wondering what each character was hiding, or what they could possibly use for leverage.

If you enjoy Southern Gothics and their unflinching look at the deeper side of humanity, you’ll enjoy this play, It is, however, mostly dialogue-based; action seekers should look elsewhere. In a Forest, Dark and Deep shows the gloomier side of human emotions, and the bittersweet tinge of familial obligations.