Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2014: Into The Woods

into the woods
Miles Fletcher (left) and Robin Goodrin Nordli (right). Photo courtesy Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Much has been written about Into The Woods, considered alongside such work as Company and Sweeney Todd as one of Steven Sondheim’s greatest musicals. Despite subverting the popular endings to the fairy tales much of us heard as children, Sondheim and James Lapine managed to maintain the fantastical tone of the stories. We can still distinguish the original fairy tales, but the parts add up to a greater whole. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor production captures this spirit, with quality actors, direction that is faithful but not adherent, and outstanding technical design.

Though it could be argued that the baker and his wife are the main characters of the piece, Into The Woods is really an ensemble performance, and each actor stood out in their own way without jostling for attention. My personal favorite performance was Miles Fletcher as Jack: Though he continues to add more emotional guard as his character develops, he doesn't lose the goofiness and na├»vete required of his character. Jack is stupid, but all of his actions are justifiable, and in this way he is both understandable and lovable. Other standout performances include Catherine E. Coulson playing three separate onstage roles (Red Riding Hood’s granny, Cinderella’s evil stepmother, and Jack’s prize cow) in what could be called a true feat of theatre, and Kjerstine Rose Anderson’s rendition of Red Riding Hood, which is understated when needed but not afraid to go over-the-top.

That description could easily apply to the direction of the work as a whole. Amanda Dehnert’s treatment of Into The Woods is different from OSF’s other musicals: Whereas previous shows like The Music Man and My Fair Lady attempted to subvert what we knew, Into The Woods instead rephrases it. There is no elaborate forest set or classic fairy-tale costumes. However, through a multimedia circus with rapid costume changes, projections, acrobatics, and even a little stage magic, we find ourselves in the same woods that Lapine imagined in his original production.

Despite the minimal set, the costumes are decadent in a way that only the astoundingly talented can pull off. Many of the costumes (such as the baking couple and Cinderella’s stepsisters) are obvious patchworks, allowing us to recognize the common in an alien form. Many of the others use gradient dyeing, making the costuming impressive on both a conceptual and technical level. For those of you studying costumes for stage or screen, this production of Into The Woods is not to be missed.

Because it is an Elizabethan Theater production, Into The Woods will last only through the end of summer. If you have the time to make it up to Ashland, please try to get a ticket to this show. Even if you think you are familiar with the work, this particular performance is so outstanding that it will ignite the emotions that remind you why you see theatre in the first place.

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