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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Head ‘Into the Woods’ With Sondheim, Off the Wall

Theater Review

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Off the Wall Theatre director Dale Gutzman adds some stylish touches while exploring the dark end of fairy tales in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. The tiny space of the studio theater is split in half. The audience sits on the right, and the stage rests on the left. A skyline serves as background as the show fades in with the sounds of a busy city street. Overall, there’s a general feeling of urban decay.

Patrick McGuire enters the stage on a skateboard as Jack, who will soon head out to sell his beloved cow for some magic beans. Jack wears a black T-shirt featuring the profile of a white pistol. Lawrence J. Lukasavage, in milkman’s attire, portrays the cow in a largely silent but surprisingly effective performance. Jacqueline Roush appears in a janitor’s jumpsuit as Cinderella; Marilyn White dresses as a homeless woman for the role of the witch.

Sondheim’s sinister look at fairy tales slides across the stage with an enjoyable patchwork of performances. Roush strikes the perfectly poised demeanor of a traditional musical heroine, which contrasts cleverly against the endearing comedy of Liz Mistele’s cartoonish portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood. Of course, things get more complicated as the happy endings of the first act begin to shatter at the beginning of the second act. Little Red was horribly violated by Eric Nelson’s “wolf” (in denim, black leather jacket and werewolf Twilight T-shirt).

Traditional fairy tale characters collide in a complex interaction that ends in what could be described as a disaster musical. The production carries it quite well, anchored by a very affecting portrayal of a baker (Christopher Elst) and his wife (Sharon Rise) willing to resort to witchcraft in an effort to conceive a child.

Off the Wall Theatre’s production of Into the Woods runs through Aug. 8.