The Theatreguide.London Review
In A Forest, Dark And Deep
Vaudeville Theatre Spring 2011
writes plays that lie to you. He establishes a situation and characters,
and then shows you that they are not what he led you to think they were.
In his best plays, these revelations are both shocking and believable, so that we come away shaken by the discovery that life is darker than we thought.
In A Forest, Dark And Deep is not one of his best plays, to a great extent because the revelations are not particularly surprising or believable.
A woman with a rental property has asked her brother to help her clear away the last tenant's things in preparation for a new renter. Some desultory sibling sniping, more a matter of ritual than any real passion, leads to his realisation that there’s something wrong with her story.
He pushes until she confesses and tells him what’s really going on, but a few moments later he realises that that is also a lie, or at least not the whole truth. So he pushes again, and again, and again, each time stripping away one layer, but only one layer, of falsehood.
That lies we tell others and ourselves can’t easily be replaced by the truth, but have to go through several levels of self-protective untruths, is a legitimate psychological insight, and as we begin to see the outlines of what the sister is unable to face directly, we may sympathise with her.
One dramatic problem, however, is that most of the revelations are telegraphed so far in advance that we are not continually surprised, but rather spend our time waiting for LaBute to get around to telling us what we’ve already figured out.
At no time in
an evening full of supposedly shocking revelations did I hear a single
gasp of surprise from the audience.
Another problem is that in order to keep digging in the way LaBute has written, the brother has to constantly change personality, morality, attitude and moral position - now slow-thinking, now sharp, now disinterested, now fire-and-brimstone moralistic, now critical of her, now sympathetic. He even has a flash of incestuous desire that comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere.
With our understanding of the sister also changing with every new story she tells, we find it very difficult to know these two people, and therefore to empathise.
For all these reasons, it is quite possible that by the time we get to the final truth, you won’t particularly care.
The play does provide two showy roles, with lots of opportunities for capital-A Acting, and serving as his own director, Neil LaBute has guided Matthew Fox and Olivia Williams to play every scene full-out, even though they just played entirely different passions and personalities full-out a few minutes ago and will be entirely different people at full steam in a few minutes.
What neither is really able to do is create a sense of a continuous character underlying the wild swings, with Williams slightly more successful than Fox only because her character has some reason for constantly shifting.
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