Review | Into The Woods: ethereal and powerful

Ten Thousand Things, through March 24

Austene Van and Jim Lightscheidl in INTO THE WOODS. Photo by Paula Keller.

You might could call Stephen Sondheim‘s exquisite and delicate Into The Woods a “problem play.” Like Shakespeare’s problem plays (one thinks of A Winter’s Tale) to call Into The Woods problematic is in no way to criticize. Rather, it’s to acknowledge that the world of the play is complex and strange and requires extraordinary intelligence from both performers and audience.

So. The 64 dollar question is: does the cast of the clutch-poppingly charming Ten Thousand Things Into The Woods, working as they always do at TTT, sans lights, with minimal setting effects and music (Peter Vitale’s work is, as always, perfect), do the play justic

At first, certainly, the answer is a resounding yes. Into The Woods (nicely helmed by TTT’s new AD, Marcela Lorca) is based on famous fairy tales: there’s Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack of the beanstalk fame, et al. The cast rips into Into The Woods with fairy tale gusto. They are having great fun, and ditto the audience, laughing, giggling and regularly bursting into spontaneous applause. The audience adored the play and so, unless you’re having severe indigestion symptoms, will you.

For me, the performers who managed to maintain character substance in spite of the campy staging were the best: Aimee Bryant and (especially) Jim Lichtscheidl at the fertility obsessed Baker and his wife. I will never forget Lichtscheidl’s plaintive, “You frightened me,” when the witch frightens him. Austene Van is marvelous as the sexy witch (will I ever be able to pair those words again? Thank you Ms. Van). Elizabeth Reese as Jack’s put-upon mother. (Twenty years ago I would have been entirely on Jack’s side; one changes as one ages.)

Everyone thrills. Ask me tomorrow and I will probably have a whole new list of favorites.

But the authors (Sondheim and his bookist, James Lapine), to their credit keep exploring. Deeper and deeper into the woods goes the play and murkier and murkier grows the production. The heavy use of multi-casting interferes as does the TTT willingness to mess with the music (I’m a purist in this regard). Into The Woods does become confusing. The female giant doesn’t really land (I think one might – shudder, shudder – blame Sondheim for this).

But the audience forgave everyone, and so did I. Lovely work.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and from The National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit John’s informational website.

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