Saturday, April 18, 2015

Faulkner: "Into the Woods"

Ever since its 1987 debut, the multi-award winning musical Into the Woods has proved to be among Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's most popular and enduring plays. -- No stranger to the Faulkner University stage and to other Montgomery theatres, and given more notoriety from the recent film version, Faulkner is once again mounting a production under Angela Dickson's direction, with musical direction by Randy Foster.

Placed on Matt Dickson's darkly romantic set [lots of gnarled trees evoking a deep perspective], Ms. Dickson has brought together a solid ensemble of students, alumni, and guest actors to bring the play to life. -- She capitalizes on the strong singing voices of her actors, always a quality of Faulkner productions. And they interpret the challenging score with confidence.

The play introduces several well-known fairy tale characters -- Jack [and the beanstalk] (Matthew Klinger's naivete is endearing), Cinderella (Valla Brooke Johnston in fine soprano voice), Little Red Riding Hood (Lucy Wilson turns in one of the most delightful performances), and Rapunzel (a captivating Emily Woodring), and creates a story of the childless Baker and his Wife (Brandtley McDonald and Kari Kelly dominate the proceedings with their excellent performances) -- having them all attempting to fulfill their individual wishes, and cleverly intertwining them by adding several twists to their stories as they travel "into the woods" to secure their desires. Throw in a couple of narcissistic Princes (Colby Smith and Blake Williams strut their stuff with assurance). -- Complicating matters is a curse brought on by a Witch (Jesse Alston creates a complex character; a force to reckon with), and the threat of Giants in the neighborhood.

The Witch it seems has placed a curse on the Baker's family but says it can be reversed and they can have children if they will get for her "a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper pure as gold"; so, off they set on the quest, ultimately securing these items: Jack has a cow called Milky White, Little Red's cape, Rapunzel's hair, and Cinderella's slipper. -- And, oh yes, those magic beans that are bartered and thrown down to cause the beanstalk home of the Giants.

"There is something about the woods" that mystifies and seduces the assorted characters. And in Act I, the quest for the spell's ingredients is uppermost in their minds. Laced with some deftly humorous dialogue, we get involved in their lives, and applaud the seemingly happy ending. But wait; there is Act II. -- Once each character gets what they want -- Jack has money, Cinderella has married her Prince, Little Red thwarted the Wolf, and the Baker and Wife have their promised child -- it seems that in the light of day, these things have not brought them happiness (they are either bored or want more). They each have a lot to learn about real life vs. fairy-tale dreams.

And as the Giants return to seek revenge, the characters we have come to know so well turn on each other in sometimes deadly fashion. There are lessons to be learned as the survivors realize they must work together in harmony in order to be successful.