Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Into The Woods"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Joe Coyne

The Uses of Enchantment:
"Into the Woods "

Reviewed by Joe Coyne

You have fourteen deaths, divorce, four blindings, separated siblings, a baking accident, spiritual death, missing fathers and the destruction of an entire Fairyland. It exceeds the total named deaths in "Titus Andronicus" hands included. Granted four are reborn (in the non-religious sense) but James Lapine, Tony award writer of "Into the Woods" reeks havoc in those woods just beyond the Fairytale Kingdom. While we may not be alone, it at first appears that someone is attempting to make it so. But appearances deceive. The outcome is a highly realistic presentation of life's difficult struggles, counterbalanced by tempered affirmations. Little Red Riding Hood's learning curve is steep indeed: nice is different than good.

But are we alienated? Not the least. "Into the Woods" is Stephen Sondheim's most popular play. It is being produced 120 times in the three month period ending March 31. (Second is "West Side Story" followed by "Forum"). His music and lyrics complete the dark story of people coming to grips with the responsibility of wishing things and the interconnectedness involved in life. The woods on the stage are as small as life's paths; we run into each other many times. You may either take responsibility for your actions or you may run on. Sondheim also raises issues you can't hum:

The farther you run,
The more your are left undefined.

How do you ignore . . .
all the wondering what even worse is still in store.

You decide alone.
But no one is alone

The production by The Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain is both balanced and highly rewarding. Balanced in the sense of minimal trade offs, resulting in quality acting and talented singing. I shy away from reviews fulfilling an obligation to mention the entire cast. Under the direction of Bill Doscher, everyone deserves more than a mention: it is an ensemble accomplishment. From Karon Lewis's Witch to Darrick Jackson's Milky White (mooooo was his line) there are accolades. Alanna Woonteiler was as nasty and obnoxious a Red Riding Hood as I have seen. It was a joy to watch her changing facial expressions in response to the on stage actions reinforcing her nastiness. Dan Walsh should consider early retirement from his day job. As the wolf he all but mauls Red during his rendition of "Hello, Little Girl" a song that is the weakest of the score. He returns later as Cinderella's Prince, oozing charm and almost up chucking his lunch at the sight of the blood soaked slipper. "Agony" sung by Mr. Walsh and Derek Clark (Rapunzel's Prince) introduces the stereotypical prince: attend to me and my needs, alone. Carly Johanson has an enchanting voice and you can hear within it her sincere wish not just to attend the Festival but to retain her simple bearings. She resigns herself to the role of Princess with a renounced grimace rather than excessive sighing. She appears so fragile. To console Red Riding Hood, she joins in "No One is Alone" with the "survivors". (Can you believe that this song was not in the original production?) Zachary Hardy (Jack) is either naive, innocent and "touched" or he is an accomplished actor. I secretly believe he still does not know how much he was to obtain for the cow. It was delightful watching him try to figure it out. I restrained myself and did not yell out, "Jack: not less than five pounds!, dolt"

The rapport between Maria Wardell and Davis DeCosta as the Baker's Wife and the Baker was fetching. Their duets with ". . . the curse is on my house . . ." and "It Takes Two" conveyed the struggling couple starting with the male's need for exhibiting his authority, withering away not his masculinity but his rigidity; leading to cooperation.

Each time I heard Ms. Lewis's "Stay With Me" I believed the Witch, having had her breakdown, would soften and permit Rapunzel a shared life. But no off to some desert. The final comment on the cast is for Mr. DeCosta's Baker. There was never a second the Baker seemed sure of his actions: confused by the world, offering help where needed, controlling his wants, testing his ethics. DeCosta sought help looking side to side, frightened over the consequences of the Baker's actions. This alters as he sings "No More": a calm descends and the Baker's story finishes with "No One is Alone"

The audience left Eliot Hall humming some of Sondheim's best songs and talking about the dark nature as well as the happy ending. Take the time (it was sold out on Friday, February 11th) make reservations for one of their remaining shows. You will see a production that ranks near the top of list. I have already taken my advice and went back to see it a second time.

"Into The Woods" (till 19 February)
Eliot Hall, 7A Eliot Street, JAMAICA PLAIN
1(617) 524-3200

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide