BareStage's 'Into the Woods' Makes Fairytales Neurotic

Photo: <b>Into the wild.</b> Though they have to cope with a restricting venue, BareStage's production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' mixes camp and smarts to entertaining effect.
Kellen Freeman/Photo
Into the wild. Though they have to cope with a restricting venue, BareStage's production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' mixes camp and smarts to entertaining effect.

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'Into the Woods'
Ryan guides a visual hike through Stephen Sondheim...

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To successfully adapt Stephen Sondheim, especially in a venue as modest as BareStage, is a daunting feat because no song and no character truly stands out among the rest. His productions emphasize the ensemble rather than the solo, and "Into the Woods" is certainly no different. With a clown car of universally known fairytale characters and lyrical complexity, "Woods" demands a go-for-broke cast. The nearly pitch-perfect effort of the BareStage players last Friday measured up more than adequately.

Given the confines of the BareStage itself, an almost claustrophobic space with a small stage that hinders any special effects, "Into the Woods" is still as characteristically operatic and grand-scale as any Sondheim. The audience is in close, intimate contact with the stage, and the troupe constantly played on this effect. Actors step off the stage, maneuvering in and out of the audience, often to quite startling results.

"Into the Woods" is the kind of production that begs flamboyant breaking-and-entering of the fourth wall. The narrator, played by Andrew Cummings, is kidnapped in act two by the play's neurotic fairytale lunatics when they need a scapegoat. Set in a quaint village rife with kitsch and local color, "Woods" stars the likes of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and the Big Bad Wolf, among many others. Their lives collide with irony and slapstick as a result of the Witch's curse and a cameo appearance by a flippant Giant Beanstalk.

There's very little to spoil about "Into the Woods" because the plot is rather thin, exhaustively emphasizing song over script. Sondheim's score relies heavily on the same riffs and patterns, often with alliterative lyrics that must be iterated swiftly. The vocals are especially superb in this cast. While the slower songs are often unrivaled by the lively showstoppers, that is no fault of the cast. Though it's hard to argue what is technically considered a classic, Sondheim's script often feels overlong. Yet, the cast made a potentially tired experience into a rather vital one.

The actors rarely venture beyond the realm of caricature, but such an endeavor would be nearly impossible considering everybody knows the story of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood. Matt Stevens and Dominique Brillon are particularly scene stealing as the Baker and his wife who set about making a rash course of decisions to get pregnant. Their droll dynamic seems so natural that it probably didn't take long to cultivate. Equally captivating is Marisa Conroy, who brings venomous wit to the Witch.

All camp and folksiness aside, "Into the Woods" also has brains. BareStage plays up the meta-theatrical flourishes of Sondheim's script as the narrator is captured by the oft-duplicitous fairytale personas. And for a moment, this is sort of how the audience is meant to feel. While being caught up in this stark raving world of magic, madness and psychological delusion is certainly enchanting, it is also rather unsettling.

Though "Woods" administers equal doses of comedy and tragedy throughout its narrative, the results lie somewhere in between. Our proximity to these characters and their follies, especially somewhere as modestly scaled as BareStage, slowly becomes trying by act two. Spending three hours with anyone can be annoying but there's nothing like spending it with a coquettish Rapunzel, a very desperate Cinderella and their adorable yet abrasive cohorts.

Lost in the woods? Contact Ryan at [email protected]

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