Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Wolf In Black Leather, Jack With a Skateboard

The Urban Decay of Off The Wall Theatre’s Into The Woods

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I’m not a big fan of Stephen Sondheim. Though the man was responsible for Sweeny Todd (one of my favorites) delved into some refreshingly dark areas for commercial theatre, traditional musicals always feel a bit old and outdated to me. Thankfully, Off The Wall Theatre’s latest Sondheim production makes some attempt at giving Into The Woods a more contemporary style. The mid-1980’s trip to the darker side of fairy tales makes it to the tiny stage of the Off The Wall Theatre with a novel stylistic edge.

The plot follows fairy tale characters like Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, a wolf, a witch, Cinderella, Jack (of the beanstalk.) Rather than giving them the traditional old-timey look one might expect, Off The Wall has opted to give the production a feel of contemporary urban decay. It works.

The show fades-in with the sounds of a busy city. Jack (Patrick McGuire) skates onstage. He’s wearing a black t-shirt with a white glock silk screened onto it. The cow he’s to bring to market takes the oddly appropriate form of Lawrence J. Lukasavage dressed as a classic milkman. Cinderella (Jacqueline Roush) wears a janitor’s jumpsuit. The witch takes the form of Marylin White dressed like a homeless woman. As Red Riding Hood, Liz Mistele . . . actually kind of looks the way you might expect her to, but when she runs into the wolf, he’s a black leather-clad Eric Nelson wearing a T-Shirt depicting Twilight Werewolf Jacob. Cute.

At first glance, the production design feels a little at odds with the musical. The first act is something of a slight mutation of the traditional happy-ending fairy tales. It’s not until Act Two that things take a turn for the worse—the one part of the musical that things get considerably darker. A universally dark, contemporary production design would have a tendency to make the whole thing feel very dark. There’s no questioning that this is a pretty dark production all the way through, but it doesn’t compromise the overall impact of the production all the way through. Robbed of those traditional visual cues that indicate we are seeing a fairy tale stories, the universality is amplified in a production that manages to make a 20 year-old musical feel relatively new.

Off The Wall theatre’s production of Into The Woodsruns through August 8th. A comprehensive review of the show runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express.

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