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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Into the Woods not your momma’s fairy tale

Published: April 20, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

Apparently the Disney World theme park had it right: it is a small world after all, or at least the world of Into the Woods is. Tympanium Euphoriums production of Stephen Sondheims play unites various fairy tale characters, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk, in a intricate plot that shows that happily ever after is just the end of Act I.

Approximately 150 people came to the plays opening night last Thursday and were treated to a production that questioned the familiar endings of fairy tales. If you wish to leave your fond memories of bedtime stories undisturbed, I recommend that you brace yourself before venturing to the plays realm in which the Bakers Wife lusts after a prince, Little Red Riding Hood pulls a knife on Jack, and Prince Charming fools around behind Cinderellas back. However, I promise that the journey will not disappoint.

Sondheims script breaks down the clear distinction between good and evil that is inherent to the fodder fed to children prior to bedtime. Into the Woods calls into question all the actions of fairy protagonists that used to be safely categorized as heroic. The normally innocent Little Red Riding Hood takes an almost barbaric pleasure in the prospect of making the fur of the slain wolf into a new cape. Instead of portraying the Witch who locks Rapunzel in a tower as a vengeful villain, Sondheim places the Witch in the role of Rapunzels mother who simply wishes to shield her daughter from the evils of the world. Sure, Jack kills a giant to protect the idyllic community he lives in, but Jack also makes sure he pilfers his fill of gold from the giants palace and in killing the giant, renders his wife a widow.

A central theme of the play is summed up in one of the rare insightful comments that spring from the mouth of Cinderellas arrogant love. Cinderellas Prince offers up I am not perfect, only human, as an explanation for his wandering eye. Even though Cinderellas Prince is one of the more superficial characters, he comes to realize his flaws before any of the others. This becomes a theme in Act II, as each of the main characters come to question the actions that ensured their respective happy endings. Jack wonders if he shouldnt have stolen from the Giant, Little Red Riding Hood rethinks her decision to stray from the path and Cinderella asks, Maybe I shouldnt have attended the ball?

While the proposal that Cinderella should have forfeited happily ever after in favor of preventing the events that provoked the wrath of a giant may seem scary and incomprehensible to seasoned fairy tale readers, the talents of this ensemble cast helps to distract from the Sondheims artful take down of classic fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood, played by Abby Trott 08, grabs the audiences attention from the moment she skips onto the stage in the first five minutes of the play. Then Trott speaks her first lines, revealing an endearing lisp, and the audience is hooked. Trott portrays Little Red Riding Hood with an eerie precociousness that allows the audience to simultaneously fear for her as she journeys to Grannys house and fear for Jacks life when she threatens to stab him if he tries to harm her.

Ross Brown 10 stars as the Baker, who is responsible for intertwining the lives of the various characters in his quest to obtain Jacks milk-white cow, Rapunzels corn-gold hair, Little Red Riding Hoods cape and Cinderellas gold slipper. Brown skillfully alternates between an actor capable of nailing every comic opportunity and one who can persuade the audience to get lost in his mournful song when he laments the death of his wife and his loneliness.

One of the most surprising delights was watching Justin Becker 09 and Jake Aaron 09 breathe life and originality into the roles of Rapunzels Prince/Wolf and Cinderellas Prince/ Wolf, respectively. Becker and Aaron exhibit a comic timing that highlights every one of their lines. They incorporate little character idiosyncrasies, such as Aarons lilting pronunciation of ws, that transform their arrogant characters into unpredictable comedians and leave the audience praying for their next return to the stage.

Their instinctual sense of humor is no surprise to director, Lindsey Butterfield '07. [The casts] improvisation is a constant source of amusement for me For someone who has seen the show so many times, these people make it fun, beautiful, and heartbreaking with what they each bring into the woods, stated Butterfield.

With the promise of a colorful cast of characters as a guide, I strongly recommend that everyone take time out of their weekend to plunge headlong Into the Woods.
Into the Woods, currently playing in the Shapiro Campus Center, with performances Friday, April 20 through Sunday, April 22.