The best thing about Pointless Theatre’s new play Forest Treás is the way it captures the unrelenting paranoia and horror that gripped the Washington area during October 2002, when the D.C. sniper attacks turned actions as simple as going to school or pumping gas into nerve-wracking ordeals. No one who lived in Maryland, Virginia, or the District at the time will ever forget those day-in, day-out tenterhooks, and playwright Navid Azeez and director Kelly Colburn use hand-held video and closed-circuit TVs — as well as an exuberant ensemble and some meticulously crafted model buildings — to bring us into a small, family-friendly suburban community that becomes a pressure cooker of fear.
Unfortunately, the story of Forest Treás, going on now until June 29 at the Dance Loft on 14, is at once so muddled and so stilted that nothing much gets cooked up. The dialogue feels as fake as plastic flowers, but the bigger problem is the plot can’t decide where it wants to go. A TV journalist (Lee Gerstenhaber) finds herself in the quiet, picturesque neighborhood of Forest Treás (pronounced “triage,” because otherwise it wouldn’t be annoying) when the bullets start to fly and she … wonders where the real story is?! What?! Ma’am, you are in the middle of the biggest news story in the world.
The cast is game, and production design (particularly those models) is very effective, but this show needs some rather drastic changes.
Sure, we can pretend that “will the annual Fun Run go on as planned?” counts as story stakes even though real-life human beings are dying — the run represents normality, feeling safe, etc. But, within this theatrical discussion, issue after issue is raised and then promptly abandoned. Vigilantism, the power of the truth, whether community makes us safer or more at-risk — all these topics and more are eyed warily, as if we must acknowledge them but never give them the chance to speak. The script can’t see the Forest for the Treás.
The biggest example of this comes when the journalist proposes filling the area with video cameras in an effort to scare away the sniper with blanket CC coverage. Ah ha, the audience thinks, a 2019-relevant discussion of privacy vs. security is upon us. Nope! No one objects, no one pays a terrible price, no one even smells the dystopia. The only debate on the cameras is whether or not they’re effective.
Back-to-back interludes about the problems of having a white van when there’s a federal manhunt for a serial killer who drives one (har har) and the instant-celebrity status that can come with live-streaming your existence both go on about 75% longer than they need to … while still forgetting to make their points.
I don’t know what exactly Forest Treás is trying to say, but I know it fails to say it.