BWW Review: Village's INTO THE WOODS Has Moments in the Woods but No Connections

BWW Review: Village's INTO THE WOODS Has Moments in the Woods but No Connections
Christine Marie Brown, Trey Ellett,
Eric Polani Jensen, and Mari Nelson in
Into the Woods at Village Theatre.
Photo credit: © 2017 Mark Kitaoka
Property of Village Theatre

I'll admit, Dear Readers, that when I saw the cast list for Village Theatre's current production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's classic "Into the Woods" I was quite excited. It was (and is) quite a list of powerhouse talent and not the usual suspects for a Village show. But Sondheim's show, as much as it's done by every professional house, community theater, or school is by no means a bulletproof show and something egregious must have happened (or didn't happen) between then and now as the production I saw last night, while technically good with well sung songs lacked any kind of emotional resonance, heart, stakes, or even connection between the characters. And for a show like this, pretty singing is not enough.

For those who've just emerged from under their rocks and don't know the show, it's a mashup of fairy tales. As the narrator (Eric Polani Jensen) leads us through, we have a sad young woman named Cinderella (Allison Standley), the lad Jack (Rafael Molina), a young girl (Arika Matoba) in a red cloak on her way to visit her Granny, and a childless baker and his wife (Trey Ellett and Christine Marie Brown). Cinderella just wants to go to the ball, Jack must go to market to sell his cow and best friend Milky White, and Red Riding Hood needs to get to Granny's. Meanwhile the Baker and his wife are visited by the haggard witch from next door (Mari Nelson). She explains that years ago she placed a curse on his father that his family tree would always be a barren one. But she offers them an opportunity to break the curse if they bring her four items before three midnights, the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. And so, all parties head off into the woods to secure their own individual happiness.

The show may have all these individual stories in them but the point is the mashup, how these characters interact and connect with others whether they're from their story or another is key and there is none of that connection here. This might have well have been a concert of songs from "Into the Woods" as the goal on stage just seemed to be to get to the next song and story be damned. The actors weren't listening or connecting to each other and at times weren't even listening to themselves and the words they were saying. Case in point when Jack yelled at the Baker "You're leaving?!?" because it was his next line but the Baker hadn't begun to leave yet. In only two moments did I see the actors connect with each other and their songs and that was when Kevin Vortmann and Matthew Posner as the two vainglorious Princes sing their hilarious laments to their unrequited loves with "Agony". But those connections in relation to the show as a whole were too little, too late.

But I'm sure none of the actors were helped in their endeavors with a set that was muddy at best and cluttered at worst. Sure, Matthew Smucker's glob of woods (that was all one bland grey color for some reason) spun around on a turntable indicating the actors travelling but there were so many superfluous elements on it and elsewhere on the stage that the playing areas and sightlines were severely reduced. Another case in point, when for some reason director Kathryn Van meter had the witch travel upstage on the glob for her big transformation at the end of Act One to an area that was obstructed for half of the audience. It wasn't until she travelled back downstage that the entire audience could see what had happened but by then the moment had passed.

I hate to say it (and am quite surprised for a Village show) but the production is, to put it simply, a mess. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Village Theatre's production of "Into the Woods" a severely disappointed NAH. Any story requires connection between the characters so the audience can connect with them, but it's doubly important in a show where several iconic stories are trying to be connected together.

"Into the Woods" performs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through October 22nd and then moves to their Everett location running October 27th through November 19th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


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