“Into the woods” is a play written by James Lapine, which uses the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondeheim. The current critique refers to the play “Into the Woods”, staged in 2013 by Larry Cure and Sharon Miller, with all the parts being performed by students. In general, the performance has its strengths and weaknesses, and presents a clear main idea “be careful with what you wish.”
In the first act, some characters fall out of the play because of lack of acting skills, but the director’s choices are quite strong. In the second act, acting improves; however, the director’s decisions there become predictable and monotonous. However, as far as the main task of modern theatre is to make viewers ask themselves a question, the Cure and Miller’s performance can be called a successful one. As a matter of fact, the strong points of the play include its cheerful mood, good directors’ findings and excellent acting of the main characters. However, there are still things to be improved.
To begin with, setting plays secondary role in the performance, which is the right thing, because setting is more important for symbolic theatre. As the genre of the performance is a fairy musical, symbolism appears to be a secondary concept, while the primary ones include acting, vocal and plastic skills of the actors, as well as the composition of the play as a whole on the stage.
The first act is set in three houses. There are no houses on the stage, but the walls make viewers understand that the characters begin their journeys from their homes. All of them communicate in the closed spaces with their families or themselves, expressing their wishes. It is obvious that they are set in different places, because they are not integral and exist on different levels of the play. Once the walls disappear, all the characters find themselves in the wood. The space expands, lights become dimmer and some trees in the depth of the stage are enough to model the wood. The further development of the action demands only some hints to change the settings. These are different parts of scene – right and left wings, downstage and upstage; illusion of movement from one part of the wood to another is created when some characters disappear in the right side scene, and the others appear from the left one. To show the palace, the only thing used is the throne, to show Jack’s yard – only a cow. In fact, all the settings were expressed through the characters that refer to them.
Speaking about the feelings experienced by the fairy characters, all of them express human wishes to deal with poverty, have a child, find love or be younger. One of the most realistic is the Baker’s family. The Baker’s wife is a kind of a modern self-content woman, who experiences extreme situations and behaves as a courageous and determined person on the way to her aim. Her desire to have a child rises from the real maternity instinct, which bares all her noble virtues. However, she subsides to temptation with the prince in the end of the play and is punished for that by the wood. She dies, because she commits an unconscious betrayal not only against her husband, but against her wish and aim in life. She lets prince Charming seduce her and she kisses him, while her task was to find Jack. This human weakness kills her character, as it is incompatible with her previous behavior.
The third thing to discuss is the director’s choices, such as casting and the context. Although the casting is suitable for the play, there is a disjuncture between some actors who play sincerely and close to professional level, such as those whose characters were Baker and his wife, and those whose aim is more to provide entertainment than work on the role and composition, like both princes and Red Hood. Other actors performed a good quality of acting, they were sincere, but often they failed in diction or plastic movement on the stage. In all the scenes with the Witch or Cinderella’s sisters, it is difficult to understand their speech. Some choices are contradictory with the play, such as the illogical combination of naturalistic scene with the wolf and Red Hood with her Granny, where they come out of Wolf, or the scene where Baker feeds the cow with all the items. At the same time, the cow, as well as setting and other supporting cast, tends to be conventional rather than naturalistic. All these choices do not seem appropriate to the flow of the play where only a few conventional trees stand for the wood. These scenes should have been staged based on dancing or other, more theatre-like decisions.
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Despite some inconsistent details, the performance succeeded in reaching the idea of the play. As the material is a fairy tale, there is a vivid morality, mentioned in the paragraph about Baker’s wife. In fact, different moral issues and didactic aims of each tale are present in the performance. They teach not to talk to strangers, as in the scene with Red Hood, believe in the power of truth and kindness, but not the power of money, as it happened in the tale about Jack, and to be honest and not to envy, as in the Cinderella’s story. These moral conclusions of each tale are subordinate to the main idea, which teaches the viewers to be careful with their wishes, and especially with the ways of succeeding in those wishes coming true, because their consequences may affect life in unexpected ways. The final song reveals this idea in the end, although it was hinted throughout the performance.