Review: ‘Forest Treás’ by Pointless Theatre Company

Pointless Theatre Company presents the world premiere of Forest Treás (pronounced ‘Triage’). Written by Navid Azeez, the play is based around the 2002 Beltway Sniper attacks and the effects the 22-day crisis has on the small fictional community of Forest Treás.

Melissa Carter and Eric Swartz in 'Forest Treás' by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Melissa Carter and Eric Swartz in ‘Forest Treás’ by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The piece is a part of Pointed Conversations, a program funded by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, which creates free community discussion groups based on themes pulled from the show’s content, including discussions about health and safety, grief counseling, and gun violence.

The production uses mixed media, which is Pointless Theatre’s M.O., combining videography, music (composed by Navid Azeez), movement (by Rachel Mehyuk), acting, and miniature building models (designed by Grace Guarniere). The technical aspect of the show is complex, with multiple screens strewn about the stage, displaying alternate feeds from a hand-held camera, a live news broadcast from a studio room in the rear of the set, and various clips of actual news footage from 2002 (video and projection design by Dylan Uremovich).

The set, designed by Emily Lotz, consists of a gas pump stage right, a standard apartment sitting room stage left, portable blocks with assorted models of the gas station, various homes, and parking lots center stage, and a recording studio upstage right. The scenes in the studio are seen as actual TV newscasts on the television screens onstage.

There are many moving parts to this show and Director Kelly Colburn, along with the creative team, has done an impressive job weaving the various art forms and mastering the timing of transitions from scene to scene and changing camera feeds.

The story begins when documentary filmmaker Roberta (Lee Gerstenhaber), goes to the small town of Forest Treás outside of DC in order to interview the area’s residents about how it feels to live in what has been titled the safest community in the DC metro area.

Lee Gerstenhaber as Roberta in 'Forest Treás' by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Lee Gerstenhaber as Roberta in ‘Forest Treás’ by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

She arrives at the news station where local celebrity, Mr. Chylle (Davis S. Kessler), is finishing his broadcast. But shortly after Roberta’s arrival, the first sniper victim is shot and as the number of incidents increases, her interviews turn from the safety of the town to individuals’ fears, experiences, and means of coping during the crisis.

Stickler and schedule man Chip (Timothy Thompson), and warm and welcoming Hiba (Sara Herrera) also work at the studio, and their contrasting relationships with Roberta echo the conflicting emotions of wanting to band together, while fearing outsiders and the unknown when anyone could be the shooter.

Clips from Police Chief Charles Moose, who was the primary official in charge of the search for the snipers, are included and highlight the increasing level of panic and sense of helplessness that people felt in that October of 2002. Citizens from Maryland through DC and into Virginia are advised to walk in a zigzag pattern to avoid being targeted, and after weeks of attacks the Police Chief acknowledges that children aren’t safe anywhere and warns people to stay inside.

To try to restore a semblance of safety, Roberta has the idea to place cameras all around Forest Treás and live-feed the neighborhood’s activities, with the logic that the sniper wouldn’t dare target a community so present in the public eye.

Performances were strong all around, played poignantly and sincerely by the entire Ensemble. Melissa Carter plays a gas station owner concerned with her business, with gas stations being the location of several incidents. Acacia Danielson plays an avid walker who acquires a following after the town begins its live broadcast and develops a false, and somewhat crazed, sense of security because of her exposure.

A white van owner (Mason Catharini) organizes a website and advertises all of the local van owners who are NOT the snipers, since the news reported searching for a white van in connection with the murders. There is an amusing but heart-aching irony in Catharini’s plea to encourage people to verify plate numbers before reporting to the police.

Nitsan Scharf movingly portrays a school kid’s experience of being on lockdown in the classroom by his teacher during a shooting. Eric Swartz represents the mania that pushed many citizens to feel the need to take law into their own hands, hunt down the snipers, and end the crisis themselves. Eirin Stevenson plays a young woman who finds comfort in the moments when she knows that she is not under attack and relishes the small instants of feeling safe.

The show summarizes the theme to be about “the unforeseen effects of the Information Age on a community in violent crisis.” But while the way in which the events were transmitted and the fear they instilled were amplified by the broader access, live feeds, and constant coverage, the production’s more central theme seemed to be human connection and community resilience throughout the experience.

With that in mind, I do wish the production had spent more time on the lasting effects of the attacks on the community, once the snipers were caught. The show seemed to be missing a complete story arc and without resolution or realization, the play simply ended.

The cast of 'Forest Treás' by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
The cast of ‘Forest Treás’ by Pointless Theatre Company. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Some of the townspeople’s stories, while I found them relatable as someone who lived in the area during the shootings, did not seem to hold relevance to the intended theme. The gas station owner recounts the history of the store and her relationship with her father, which is never mentioned again. The avid walker has an extensive scene explaining her gathering of fans–when the point of the scene felt like her false sense of security, which could have been conveyed in half the time.

Forest Treás is a powerful and poignant production, but overall the experience felt like a collage of moments rather than a concise story. Nonetheless, the technical components are remarkable, and the cast’s performances are outstanding.

Pointless Theatre’s production is an intense experience, and the world premiere of Forest Treás shows great potential to be a moving rendering of a tragic time in our local community’s history.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Forest Treás plays through June 29, 2019, at Pointless Theatre performing at the Dance Loft on 14th, 4618 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, go online.

Jeannette Christensen, Costume Designer; Max Doolittle, Lighting Designer; Hailey LaRoe, Associate Lighting Designer; Adrianna Watson, Props Master; Hayden Morrissett, Production Stage Manager; Rachel Schor, Assistant Stage Manager; Steve Cosby, Technical Director

Note: I would advise caution to anyone triggered by memories of the events and Pointless Theatre’s website suggests calling the theater with questions about content. Prior to the show, there is a room with interactive activities allowing for audience members to share their own stories, where they were at the time, and the sequence of events, so those unfamiliar with the Beltway Sniper attacks can have a better understanding of what they are about to experience.