TRIP SLAYMAKER ’18
In a broad sense, Into The Woods sets out to defy expectations. Worn out by centuries of homage and rebooting, Grimm’s fairy tales make a near perfect medium for subversion. When everyone thinks they know what will happen next, opportunities for shocking and meaningful changes are everywhere.
Performed between Thursday March 1 and Saturday March 3, this production of Into the Woods was a remarkable accomplishment. Though the cast was composed of an unusually high number of accomplished seniors, the task of preparing for any of these verbose and convoluted roles in scarcely over a month should daunt any performer.
The first act of the show stokes a familiar sense of playful adventure that deliberately highlights and exaggerates the sexual aspects already present in stories like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel,” and ends in a convenient resolution. In the second act, the story takes sharp and brutal turns that are outside of any character’s control. Some critics have compared the distant echoes and sudden death dealt by the Giant to the A.I.D.S. Crisis, which, while speculative, sheds some light onto the rest of the show and reveals connections to the era of the show’s first performances. Into The Woods suggests, with some morbidity, that “happily ever after” might be something of an impossible promise.
At the center of events is Baker and his wife, played by Cooper Jennings ’19 and Maggie Powderly ’18. Jennings brought his sharp deliveries and soulful singing voice to a critically important and well performed role as the baker, and a lot of that power comes from presence alone. But there was no character more fully realized than Powderly’s: bolstered by the appearance of unshakable confidence, her performance brought a real woman to life. Powderly emanated a casual but electric energy, and her more intense scenes, especially later ones, revealed a streak of mastery. Hers is one of those rare cases where singing and acting seem to go hand in hand.
On the dark side, Lydia Haynes ’18 was absolutely in her element as the pivotal witch character. She first appears as a hunched crone, masked with a long nose and pointed fingers. Haynes was clearly having fun in this phase of her character’s arc, thanks in part to the aid of her props. It was an incredibly amusing performance with a very well curated witch cadence and cackle, and the rapid-fire “beans” diatribe looked easy when Haynes performed it in her booming voice. But this first phase is a relative force of nature that does not require vulnerability or much variation. It was the second version of the witch that brought out Haynes’ full acting skill. In the costume change Haynes’ face was revealed, and the performance was filled with a new sense of nuance and edge.
Kira Mason ’18 and Caroline Cannon ’18 played Rapunzel and Cinderella respectively. Cannon’s Cinderella needed to be more preoccupied than anything, an emotion captured well by Cannon, who appeared as either beautiful or covered in mud. Mason’s role required a more traditionally romantic approach, though her most emotionally resonant scenes are shared with Haynes’ witch.
Jack Lynch ’18 and James Nash ’19 play the two princes of the story. Lynch and Nash have worked well when performing off of each other. A careful observer might recall almost this precise brand of slapstick-machismo from Nash and Lynch’s performances in 2017’s Heathers. Luckily, that is exactly what the roles required, though the shtick does wear out its welcome slightly by the second, rather redundant, performance of “agony.” Nash also shines as the wolf, investing fully in his very short, very physical performance, and prowling expertly around the stage in a show-stealing moment.
If the pattern for this production was perfect casting, the roles of Jack and his mother should serve as great evidence. Christopher Perkowski ’18 and Claire Pitzer ’21 delivered two of the more memorable performances of the show. Pitzer was eminently expressive and sang beautifully in her role as the beanstalk-climbing Jack’s penny-pinching mother, and Perkowski seemed to undergo an immersive return to childhood as Jack himself. Jack’s slightly pitiful, simple-minded demeanor comes across perfectly in Perkowski’s gestures and prating voice. Equally prating was Georgia Beckmann ’21, whose Little Red Riding Hood was an accurate and at times, funny, portrayal of a spoiled young girl.
Ansel Burn’s Narrator helped to establish an often pressing or extremely gripping tone: he announced the beginnings of scenes with a striking urgency. Though Max Fertik’s role as the mysterious man has minimal impact on the plot of Into The Woods, it was a fine showcase for Fertik’s natural comedy instincts. With his grizzled beard and tattered clothes, Fertik’s appearance needed a strong-willed performer to be pulled off fully. His work in this role, and indeed in his very short moments as Cinderella’s father, were a highlight.
One of the great strengths of this production was its live music: Music director Joseph Gancy conducted a group of musicians in the pit before the stage. Admirers of the work of Stephen Sondheim enjoy the way he conceives of a handful of evocative passages of music and returns to them constantly. His music is evocative and catchy, his lyrics strikingly witty and many in number. But as the show continued into its second act, some aspects of the show began to feel unnecessary or excessive.
This is a dangerous failing: In a show about breaking expectations, it is unfortunate when the audience knows they are in for a lot of the same. In the last stretch of this production, which clocked in at a cool three hours including intermission, certain reprisals, or scenes that only serve to put two unlikely characters together before the end of the show drag by with impressive slowness.
But by the time the cast was bowing on stage, spectators only remembered the precision of the show, in its excellent performances and flawless casting choices. Whether by many instances of incredible luck or the sheer force of will of director Julia Kiley, Into The Woods was a success story of college theater.