A Wolf In Black Leather, Jack With a Skateboard
The Urban Decay of Off The Wall Theatre’s Into The Woods
Iâ€™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delved into some refreshingly dark areas for commercial theatre, traditional musicals always feel a bit old and outdated to me.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 Theatreâ€™s latest Sondheim production makes some attempt at giving Into The Woods a more contemporary style. The mid-1980â€™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. Heâ€™s wearing a black t-shirt with a white glock silk screened onto it. The cow heâ€™s to bring to market takes the oddly appropriate form of Lawrence J. Lukasavage dressed as a classic milkman. Cinderella (Jacqueline Roush) wears a janitorâ€™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, heâ€™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. Itâ€™s not until Act Two that things take a turn for the worseâ€”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. Thereâ€™s no questioning that this is a pretty dark production all the way through, but it doesnâ€™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.