Amanda Dehnert

INTO THE WOODS in search of happy endings

At OSF, the complex Lapine-Sondheim musical "Into the Woods" gives our fairy tales an adult twist

By HAILEY BACHRACH

Shakespeare loved to send characters into the forest. The most obvious examples are As You Like It, where journeys into the forest of Arden result in dramatic transformations of heart, mind, and even gender; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the forest leads to a night of love and chaos that helps set the befuddled lovers right. But think also of the climaxes of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Cymbeline, or even the island forest of The Tempest.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is producing two of these plays this year (Two Gentlemen and The Tempest), and they are also producing what proves to be a fitting contemporary counterpoint: James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods.

In OSF's "Into the Woods" Miriam A. Laube tugs  on Royer Bockus's golden hair/Photo  T. Charles Erickson

In OSF’s “Into the Woods” Miriam A. Laube tugs on Royer Bockus’s golden hair/Photo T. Charles Erickson

Into the Woods is an amalgamation and adaptation of Western European fairy tales, but it shares Shakespeare’s understanding of the metaphorical import of the woods. The woods are Elsewhere, a place free of society and its rules and thus a place where something like a truer self can, perhaps, emerge…for good or bad. Amanda Dehnert’s production visualizes this journey by starting the actors out in modern dress with music stands, then sending them deeper and deeper into fairy tale costumes, props, and magic tricks as they move farther and farther into the woods. At the end of his plays, Shakespeare sends his characters out of the woods to resume their normal lives; Sondheim and Lapine’s characters learn that you are never really out.

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