As Alfred Hitchcock proved in his finest work, the surest way to frighten his adoring fans was to show them just enough unspeakable horror, then let their extra-vivid imaginations conjure up a far scarier rendering than even the most talented cinematographers and makeup artists could create.
Of course, in the cinema people want to be terrified, knowing that however odious the events are, the real world is, quite literally, just around the corner. For gore meisters such as Quentin Tarantino, no gruesome detail is too small to cut—skittish patrons need only close their timorous eyes.
In the light of non-theatrical day, fears, uncertainties and upheavals wreak havoc with all ages—whether imagined or, sadly, true.
Children are especially susceptible to deep emotional trauma when their precious lives are suddenly turned upside down by the actions of their elders.
Q: How on earth should these difficult situations be presented for young audiences—much less openly discussed?
A: Attend a performance of Thomas Morgan Jones’ The Forest in my Room.
Employing the seemingly “normal,” innocent narrative device of an eight-year-old “Fairy Princess” (Amy Keating positively exudes Ruby’s struggle to endure the relocation from idyllic country life to “condo-mania”) settling into their big-city lives, Jones has artfully, magnificently crafted a script that lets all generations fill in their own blanks with past (or present) phobias, misconceptions and nagging doubts.
This play will open a floodgate of conversations if those charged with the care and nurturing of our most precious resource can find the magical “first words” to begin the dialogue.
During the post-performance Q&A, two comments (“[Ruby] was scared of the trouble with Momma”; “You shouldn’t really leave school”) confirmed that Jones’ just-below-the-surface subtext was having the desired effect.
Beyond the writing, Pablo Felices-Luna’s able, sensitive direction was entirely at one with the playwright’s vision. He deftly employed Michael Greves’ baker’s dozen panels and a rolling gurney that did yeoman’s service as the family car, Ruby’s bed or Ella’s (Ruby’s best friend was ever-engagingly portrayed by Amelia Sargisson—her “thinking” pose was a comedic gem), keeping the production in high gear from stem to stern (the “slide to home plate” bit of business putting the two girls face-to-face in the Kappa scene was executed with Olympian perfection). Particularly effective was the projection screen (whose images were wonderfully designed by Karyn McCallum), readily flooding the eye with a lush forest and wee “visitors” or spectacular redo when Ruby chose to destroy her symbolic comfort zone to help her withering Mamma (only a touch more projection in the closing moments could improve Alexis Koetting’s performance) through her own quiet fear of the unknown.
So much was purposely left unexplained (Where was Dad?; How did Mamma suddenly get snatched up for a big-city job?; What, exactly, was she suffering from?; Were Ruby’s forest friends entirely imagined?; What kept Ella from helping Ruby when needed the most?), that all viewers were unwittingly put to work fleshing out Jones’ themes and issues on their own. Here’s hoping that during the play’s weeks-long tour ahead, pushed-away real-life monsters will see the light of day then either banished as unfounded or exposed and remedied as needs be. JWR