BUCHAREST -- Last month, some 25,000 workers in Constanta Harbor went on strike. A week later, it was the workers in Brasov. The Prime Minister, Petre Roman, complains about the low productivity, lack of discipline and theft among the work force. At the Faur Factory, the largest in Bucharest, the workers say they can't work because they have no raw materials. In this respect, "It is worse than before," a worker told me during a recent visit to the plant. The government blames the factory managers. The workers blame the government. Everybody blames the gypsies.

A month ago the student leader Marian Munteanu shook hands with the president of the League of Miners, Miron Cozmo, who had either beat him up during the miners' visit to Bucharest last June or saved his life, depending. The miners say they are misunderstood. In any case, coal production is down by almost 50 percent from last year, and industrial output generally is 77 percent of last year's production. They say crops lie rotting in the fields for lack of a proper distribution system.

Outside my apartment the people stand in queues for bread and meat; toilet paper is almost impossible to find. In Union Square a legless gypsy child scuttles along the sidewalk, begging, blowing bubbles with his gum. Orphans -- child pickpockets and prostitutes -- run wild in the North Station, sleeping in rubbish bins at night. The newspaper Dimineata reports that the crime rate has doubled since the revolution. I walk the streets at any hour, unmolested.

The country's largest paper mill has stopped because, they say, there is a shortage of raw materials. The independent newspapers are running out of newsprint. The other day Romania Libera, Bucharest's most important independent daily, printed only a single sheet. The editor of Zig-Zag, one of the leading independent weeklies here, was replaced this week by Adrian Paunescu, who used to write poems in praise of the Ceausescus. The paper is now called Zig-Zoe because it has been running a series of amiable letters from the late dictator's daughter Zoe to her husband. The letters were written from prison, before she was released.

Several weeks ago, Silvio Brucan, who was the National Salvation Front's leading intellectual, said on television that unless the government does not move more quickly toward democracy and privatization, "A head will have to fall." A few days later the front's newspaper pointed out that Brucan is a Jew but that Prime Minister Petre Roman isn't really, because although his father was Jewish his mother was a Catholic and he was baptized in the Orthodox Church. (The newspaper, Azi, reprinted his birth certificate as evidence.) It is hard to say what this is supposed to prove or disprove.

President Ion Iliescu rather disingenuously asserted in an interview published last month that the "thirst for power" was "alien" to him and that he never had "the gift of conspiracy." The citizens smile. On a recent Monday, the leader of the National Liberal Party, Radu Campeanu, held a press conference that put all but his most ardent followers into a stupor. On the following Wednesday Adrian Severin, the minister for reform, told the finance ministers of six Eastern countries and the Soviet Union that Romania was choosing the market system but rejecting "shock therapy." And on Thursday night, the National Peasants Party's candidate for president, Ion Ratiu, went to the theater. Business as usual in Bucharest, except for the theater.

The play -- "Mad Forest" -- is a sell-out, which is surprising because it is being performed in English (with simultaneous translation provided through headsets) before 400 Romanians nightly. It was originally scheduled for four performances in one of the auditoriums at the National Theater here; then three more were added. More might have been, but the production returns to London to open at the Royal Court this week. It was invited to play at the Public Theater in New York in November, but the cast -- 11 young actors without British Equity cards -- unfortunately fell between the bureaucratic crack of American Equity rules and American immigration laws. The actors can't get visas allowing them to work.

Written by the noted London dramatist Caryl Churchill after a week's visit to Bucharest last winter and another visit in April with the actors who were then students at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, "Mad Forest" holds a mirror up to Bucharest, vividly, sharply depicting daily life here before, during and after the revolution. To watch the play is not a comforting experience -- "It is like an operation without anesthetic," a man in the audience told me -- but it is a very moving one. I have seen it twice. Both nights the audience was rapt. After a Tuesday night performance, they stayed half an hour to talk and argue -- intensely and often heatedly -- with the author, the director Mark Wing-Davey, the actors and with one another. The next night they stayed an hour and a half, leaving only because the theater staff wanted to close up and go home.

The audience discussions do not center so much on the fundamental question of the play as on ordinary aspects of daily life and on the struggle to preserve a little dignity under the attempts of the former regime to destroy it. Some are disturbed by the sharpness of the picture. In the play a woman scrapes an egg off the floor because eggs were precious and not to be wasted. A member of the audience finds this offensive. Another stands up and says she'd done the same thing herself. "It is not an offense. We must feel offended by the time we lived, not by this picture of it."

The fundamental questions the play addresses are raised by a man wounded in the revolution, a patient in the hospital thought to be half mad. These questions do not come up for discussion because nobody disputes that they are in fact still the central questions in Romania today. "Did we have a revolution or a putsch?" the patient asks. "Who was shooting on the 21st {of December}? And who was shooting on the 22nd? Was the army shooting on the 21st, or did some shoot and some not shoot, or were the Securitate disguised in army uniforms? If the army were shooting, why haven't they been brought to justice? And were they still shooting on the 22nd? Were they now disguised as Securitate? Most important of all, were the terrorists and the army really fighting, or were they only pretending to fight? And for whose benefit? And by whose orders? . . .

"Why did no one turn off the power at the TV? . . . How many people died at Timisoara? And where are the bodies? Who mutilated the bodies? And were they mutilated after they'd been killed specially to provoke a revolution? By whom? For whose benefit?" These questions remain unanswered.

In the audience one night was a young actor who is translating the play into Romanian and plans to produce it in his city of Cluj later this year. His name is Calin Nemes. A few minutes before 4 o'clock on the afternoon of Dec. 21, in the main square in Cluj, he bared his chest to soldiers in the street. One of the soldiers shot him. He lost a kidney. His best friend lost his life, along with several others. I and thousands of people here have seen the photographs of those moments. They are indelible. The officer shooting Calin is clearly identifiable. Is it true, I asked Calin, that you have seen the man who shot you, that you know his name?

"Yes, of course," Calin replied. "He was a captain then. Now he is a major. In Cluj it is possible for me to meet on the street the man who tried to kill me. And now, they say that I am a terrorist because I showed them my chest." Thus does a hero of December become the provocateur of September.

It would be good to hope that by the time Calin's production of "Mad Forest" appears, these questions that still obsess this country might be answered. The truth will not solve the problems this country faces, but at least it would allow the past to be honorably buried so that the future might be faced and dealt with. As it is, the past bubbles up around us every day, and it smells.

William McPherson is a former editorial writer and book editor of The Washington Post.