Review: STAGEright’s “Into the Woods”

Man, remember when I used this blog for things like reviews?

This last Monday I threw up my hands and said “Screw working, I’m going to go see a show!” I ended up at STAGEright’s production of Into the Woodsthe most hipster Sondheim I’ve ever seen. And I mean that in the nicest possible way, because it also ranks as one of the most enjoyable Into the Woods I’ve seen.

"Always ten feet behind! / Always ten feet below!" Nathan Brockett and Faith Howes. Photo via STAGEright's Facebook.

“Always ten feet behind! / Always ten feet below!” Nathan Brockett and Faith Howes. Photo via STAGEright’s Facebook.

The costumes, by Chelsea Cook, might be my favorite part of the design. Clad in vests and skinny jeans, slouchy beanies and A-line skirts (and a little bit of drag), the cast wouldn’t look out of place walking the streets of Capitol Hill. Alyssa Milione’s lighting gives the show the sepia tone of an Instagram filter. The general effect reminds me of the autumnal feel of the original Broadway production, but made contemporary—appropriate for a play about familiar stories turned on their heads.

Director Matt Giles has created a truly minimal show. The set consists of just three ladders, some crates, a trash can, and some suitcases; the orchestra is replaced with a piano, a cello, a violin, a drum-set, and a chorus of kazoos; and in a show that’s traditionally full of symbolic double-casting, Giles has gone one step further and triple-cast a couple of actors. A clothes hanger becomes a harp, and a megaphone becomes a giant. It’s the kind of theatrical magic I love best, where all the work is done with a gesture and imagination. Transformation, appropriately, is the name of the game. (Special kudos in this arena have to go to Nathan Brockett, who not only transforms from Cinderella’s Prince to the Wolf, and from one of Cinderella’s step-sisters to Cinderella’s Prince within songs, but also ran back to the band to play violin.)

By stripping away production elements to the bare essentials, Giles gives the story and the words primacy. It’s a credit to the cast that during some of Sondheim’s most rapid-fire lyrics, I was delighted to hear (and understand!) lines I’d never heard before. And Giles makes a smart choice in letting the story stand on its own merits without trying to comment on it: Into the Woods is a rock-solid story with enough complicated ideas and emotions on its own.

"There are giants in the sky!" Photo via STAGEright's Facebook.

“There are giants in the sky!” Photo via STAGEright’s Facebook.

This means that if you’re a Woods aficionado, you’re not necessarily going to be surprised by the story you see. All the emotional beats and arcs that you know and love are there, landed with confidence and competence, but familiarity. But that also means that if you’ve never seen Woods before, you should absolutely go see this one and ruin future productions for yourself.

Because I do think you could do way, way worse than to use this as your baseline Woods. The intimate space, the smart staging, and the obvious energy and pleasure of the cast give the whole production a sense of magic. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, et cetera–but I think, too, you’ll wonder. And the woods are made for wondering.

Into the Woods plays through April 25 at Hugo House.

But he seemed so nice: Hannibal, Little Red, and the stories we tell

I think sometimes I underestimate the value of stories. Don’t get me wrong: I am always going to be on the front lines saying that stories have an enormous effect on culture, on our values, on our psychology. It’s just that I think I, personally, have tended to discount the effect stories have had on me and my development. When I first started thinking about a post about stories, I was going to write about Cinderella and Snow White and Savitri and the anxiety-inducing myth of perfection. And that’s a post I’ll probably write one day!

The story on my mind right now, though, is Little Red Riding Hood.

As many of my friends have been forced to hear over the last couple months, I am an enormous fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books and movies. All two of them. Boy, isn’t it a shame he didn’t write more about what Lecter got up to after escaping? I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone off the rails into creepy Freudian shenanigans and death by Moray eel at all. But I think we’re all glad he didn’t write some kind of phoned-in prequel giving Lecter a bizarre excuse for being a monster, just because Dino de Laurentiis wanted to milk the franchise for every penny it was worth.

Even if he had, we’d still have the exquisite Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, and any insanity that crept into the franchise later in its life couldn’t change the fact that those are excellent books and Silence is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I just love Will Graham and Clarice Starling, okay? Especially Clarice. Talk about an awesome role model for a young woman.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn't care that she's shorter than you.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn’t care that she’s shorter than you.

(Beyond this Read More I’m going to be talking about content from and spoilers for NBC’s Hannibal, including the season finale, so consider yourself warned.)

Continue reading