“Into the Woods,” directed at Brandeis by Jessie Field ’13 and put on by the Free Play Cooperative, presents a twisted set of fairytales and takes them to conclusions far beyond where they began. The musical asks, in nearly three hours of song, the question really begged of fables: What happens after “happily ever after?” In the land of fairytales, where answers are simple, the obvious answer is simply nothing. But “Into the Woods” is set in a place that more closely resembles our world, where actions have vast consequences and “happily ever after” is not nearly as simple as we would have it be.
The musical tells the story of a baker and his wife, cursed to be childless, in their search to break the curse. The adventure leads them to cross paths with Little Red Riding Hood (Aliza Sotsky ’15), who with a threateningly sexual wolf (Zach Smith ’15), an indecisive Cinderella (Sarah Hines ’15), Jack of Beanstalk fame (Jeffrey Lowenstein ’15), a lost and confused Rapunzel (Alison Thvedt ’15), and the various other characters who populate their respective stories. The mixed cast eventually comes together, after facing great tragedy, to join against a near-insurmountable foe after they had come to believe that their happy endings were achieved and secure.
The most notable and interesting production decision of “Into the Woods” was to take it out of the conventional venues of theater and literally stage the play in the woods, guiding the audience away from the familiarity of Spingold Theater and into Sachar Woods. This creative staging choice grants “Into the Woods” a distinct way of standing out from the crowd of shows at Brandeis. Though rather cold, the effect of immersion in the set—with the audience in the forest along with the cast—paid off, bringing the story out of the set and creating a far more immersive experience, shivers included.
Though the set was minimal, relying on the woods around, what was built (a small platform, bits added to trees to allow for climbing, and a tower that was primarily occupied by Alison Thvedt ’15 as Rapunzel) was very effectively used, as the various storylines intersected and parted ways across the set.
Clearly, “Into the Woods” was carefully and skillfully cast. With impressive vocals and effective acting, the cast did all they could to keep a frigid audience attentive, as they likely froze themselves. In both song and acting, Jaime Perutz ’13 was particularly amazing as the Baker’s Wife, exhibiting supreme control over her features as she performed. Also of great note was Zach Smith’s ’15 performance as both the Wolf with whom Little Red Riding Hood tangles and Cinderella’s prince. The sexual undertones (and, well, overtones) of both roles effectively balanced darkness and humor. In complement, Aliza Sotsky ’15 as Little Red Riding Hood, brought an exploratory, adventurous and childish spin to her role. Sotsky’s Little Red was almost ageless, balancing between the innocence of a child and the darkness of a girl who faces both hardship and adventure over the course of the show. Meanwhile, Sarah Hines ’15 brought a true sense of fairytale fancy to her role as Cinderella, with a high, delicate voice that proved absolutely perfect for the part.
Though well-planned and performed over all, there were issues in production that were unfortunately, likely inherent in the unconventional setting of the show. Lighting, which came from a single source by the audience, was one apparent issue in the show: at times the play felt shrouded in darkness. Sound proved similarly limited. At times, actors were very hard to hear, their voices swallowed by the woods around. While not all actors faced this issue, it was a significant enough difficulty so as to be of note, and a greater level of projection from the actors may have helped negate the difficulty.
Despite these flaws in production, “Into the Woods” was clearly a well-rehearsed and impressively-designed show. The effort put into creating the fairytale setting paid off, with no stone left unturned in creating appropriately styled costuming. It may, perhaps, have been wiser to plan an outdoor show for a warmer part of the year, but in some ways the act of sitting out in the cold added to the experience, bringing audience members decidedly into this land of fairytale.
Ultimately, while “Into the Woods” is a tale of fantasy, it tackles very human questions. “Into the Woods” is personal, challenging audiences to question the simplicity of fairytales, bringing them into the context of real life. It asks people to question how it is that they deal with the consequences of their actions, challenges one to consider the way one treats the people they love, and explores the way humans behave in a time of crisis, just when they thought “happily ever after” had been achieved. “Into the Woods,” which faces a unique set of problems brought by its unique set, is ultimately a successful production.