|My new niece. Doesn't she make you want to pull a Witch and steal a baby?|
And we're back...a month later. I have a good explanation for the long absence, I swear. It's called the October 152-page issue of "American Theatre" and a managing editor on maternity leave. And it was also called my sister Thao, who had a baby on August 15, which was the same day as my dad's birthday (who turned 69 this year). "Happy birthday daddy, I got you another granddaughter!"
And speaking of my daddy, my parents also visited for a week and a half to see their new granddaughter. This is grandkid #5 for them and apparently, it doesn't get old.
As for me, I was at the magazine's beck-and-call while at work and my mom's beck-and-call after work. And as for the boyfriend...he's been putting up with the family crazy and baby photos admirably (though he did say "I want 8 of those" when I showed him the above photo of my niece, I hope that's not a hint).
But I am determined to write about (the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park) "Into the Woods" dammit, because it's Sondheim and a large cast (practically unheard of these days) and now that my life is literally filled with children, it's even more appropriate, because children will listen. Which is why I tell my boyfriend not to swear so much in public but unlike my nephews and nieces, he doesn't listen to me.
But now that it's too late for a "is this show worth seeing or not?" type of review, I want to talk more about the show's concept, which is the thing I found most interesting and what I thought I remember most vividly since I saw the musical last month.
Spoilers abound in this analysis so proceed in with caution. Mind the path.
|Amy Adams, Denis O'Hare and Jack Broderick.|
Photo by Joan Marcus
And then we learn at the end of the musical that the boy is the child of the Baker and his wife, when the Baker (Denis O'Hare) finds him, with dialogue and stage directions that were probably not in the original James Lapine book. This "Into the Woods" takes the theme of the perceptiveness of children, and the beauty of storytelling, and brings it full circle with the appearance of the Baker's son. The boy even gets the last line in the musical: "I wish."
As for design, it's apt to call it a post-modern "Into the Woods." The costumes were a combination of modern and quasi-traditional dress (with a touch of hipster, they can probably share the stage with the "Once" cast and audiences won't know the difference).
Instead of Disney-like gown and golden slippers for Cinderella (Jessie Mueller), Emily Rebholz costume design had a mullet skirt and golden stiletto boots. And instead of a red cape for Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Stiles), we have a red biker jacket and helmet. And we also have a hyper-sexualized Wolf (Ivan Hernandez, who pulled double duty as Cinderella's prince) who looked more like a cast-member for "Rock of Ages" than a real wolf. Then there was that giant bouffant on Amy Adams' head, which didn't topple off of her head and that was impressive all by itself.
|Sarah Stiles and Ivan Hernandez.|
Photo by Joan Marcus
The 50-feet-plus wooden, multi-leveled set by John Lee Beatty and Soutra Gilmou was also an imposing entity, an overgrown treehouse that fit in perfectly with its sylvan Central Park surroundings. I would have preferred if the set had been moved upstage. Most of the action occurred on it and because the Delacorte Theatre has a thrust stage, that meant most of the action took place on the back of the stage where the set was placed. And as such some details were lost (such as Rapunzel's death), especially for those of us (me and my boyfriend) who sat in the back of the theater.
|I don't know who took this photo. Not me I swear.|
And then there was the rag-tag nature of the more fantastical plot elements, where green umbrellas stacked on top of each other became the beanstalk and an amalgamation of steel, umbrella and headlights became the Giant's face. All of which was then seamlessly dismantled when the scene was over.
Even though the design seemed incongruous and overdone in the first, more traditional-with-a-touch-of-farce half of "Into the Woods," it wasn't until the second half that the concept started to make more sense. The musical is a subversion of the typical fairy tale story, where happily ever after does not last because "ever after" is a long life indeed. To be human is to always wish for something more, even when you have what it is you always thought you wanted. Or to quote the musical, "Wishes may bring problems/Such that you regret them."
As such, the costumes, props and set (as well as the acting choices) set out to give a sense of "this is not your grandmother's fairy tales" and that there are darker, sadder territories to be explored here. On that note, it was successful.
Co-director Timothy Sheader's (he originally directed the production at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London) and Liam Steel concept was that all of this was happening in the mind of the child. As such, "Into the Woods" also felt like a child's wild, overgrown, incongruous fantasy.
It brought to my mind that memory of being a child and not having enough toys to build that fantasy world in your head, so you used whatever it is you could find in your toy chest and your parents garage. I remember trolls, Barbie Dolls and figures made of square legos with faces hand-drawn on them all occupied the same fantasy land when I was a child. And every game in the world could be played in a tree house, no adults allowed.
|I don't think a giant pig and green aliens belong in the same fictional universe.|
Toy Story 3
There are some critics who found the production design distracting and ineffective. For those, I say: there are a myriads of high school and local theater productions (and a prior Broadway revival) that take the fairy tale theme and play it straight. The Public Theater's "Into the Woods" does not follow that tradition and my ironic, hipster soul loves it for that reason.
So I laughed and I cried and I enjoyed the hell out of this "Into the Woods." The moon was full that night, I could see the waters from Turtle Pond and the Belvedere Castle in the distance. There were mosquitoes and fireflies and the city practically disappeared (a rare occurrence in New York City).
It was the stuff of nightmares, of monsters coming out of the woods, and dreams flying about. The way was long (7 hours) but it was worth it. It felt like being a kid again.
|Donna Murphy and Tess Soltau. Credit: Joan Marcus|