Lost in the Woods

Into the Woods

During the last hour of Chico State’s rather ponderous Spring Musical production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, I felt so bludgeoned by facile morals, pseudo-psychological analyses and glib truths that I was ready for the giantess roaming offstage to stomp on the whole show and put an end to it.

Admittedly, Into the Woods is replete with problems. Many of the female characters (a disproportionate number of whom are shrewish or conniving) have no center. They vacillate between off-putting unpleasantness and situations that ask for our sympathies—victimization, desertion, death. The male characters are perhaps more sympathetic, but they are also small-minded and easily seduced or corrupted.

Furthermore, the overall plot, which begins with a clever intermingling of the “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” stories, insists on shifting into a long second act of post-happy-ending misery. Cinderella’s Prince gets bored; the Baker makes a play for another woman; Jack’s mother dies; Little Red Riding Hood grows spoiled. And then, more clichàd morals on how to live right and survive tough times are dumped into the act than it can possibly bear.

I really don’t know how to get it right—although I do know that Into the Woods has often been successfully performed. Is it a matter of the characters looking for their own inner consistency and interacting with one another rather than simply announcing their lines? Is it a matter of distancing the audience from the story so as to establish its silliness (before and after the “happy ending") as just that—silliness?

I wish I could say; I wish the production had shown me.