UI musical explores Suicide Forest


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At the base of Mount Fuji in Japan, there is a forest. It is quiet, and there is hardly any wildlife. Aokigahara forest has been denoted as the Suicide Forest, or the Sea of Trees, and is the setting for the latest University of Iowa Theater Gallery show.

The musical Sea of Trees, written by Ryan Oliveira and Adam Phillips, will open at 8 p.m. Friday in the Theater Building’s Theater B.

Sea of Trees tells the story of Aimi (Katie Boothroyd), a woman who enters Aokigahara searching for her long-lost love, Kats (Nicholas Montgomery). Convinced that near-death experiences are the best way to communicate with Kats’ “spirit boss,” Aimi experiments with various methods of suicide, going to great lengths to get her lover back.

Oliveira got his start in theater during his junior year of high school. This initial interest turned into signing up for advanced drama classes and writing plays.

Oliveira said classmate Phillips approached him about writing a dark fairy tale set in a forest.

Oliveira researched forests all around the world until he became focused on Aokigahara. The two collaborated on the final production, Oliveira penned the script and Phillips the music.

“Writing the show started off as a fairy tale, but I eventually embraced the concept of turning it into an anime-like musical,” Oliveira said.

The anime concept comes out in one character: a stuffed cat. The cat raps throughout the show and is the warning figure to Aimi when she decides to enter the forest.

Director Marina Johnson, a second-year M.F.A. directing candidate, said this is her first time directing a new musical, so the process has been rather unusual.

“When I first read Ryan Oliveira’s script and heard the songs that Adam Phillips had written for the musical, I was amazed and knew that I had to be involved with this talented duo,” Johnson said.

Oliveira believes that even though the show is set in Japan, the message of the show can help issues the audience members go through.

“It’s full of dead ends in jobs, in losing loved ones, in loneliness, and heck, it’s sometimes even darkly comedic,” Oliveira said. “But there aren’t easy answers or adequate replacements for the traumas we experience growing up and losing the things and people we love.”

Combining themes of love, loss, depression, and letting go, Johnson said, audiences can expect great things from Sea of Trees.

“I promise you’ve never seen anything like it,” Johnson said. “And you should definitely see it now, so that in a few years when it’s premièred in a big city with a fantastic venue and a huge budget, you can say you saw it here first.”

Sea of Trees
Where: Theater Building Theater B
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Admission: Free, but limited seating

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