David and Chelsea BerglundHow Was the Show.com
March 8, 2015
Chelsea: From the moment we walked into The Ritz Theater (345 13th Ave NE) for Theater Latté Da’s production of the great Stephen Sondheim‘s rich and multi-layered Into The Woods, it felt like we were in for something good. The theater, in which the bare concrete blocks that make up the structure were exposed, was adorned sparsely, with fencing “trees” and a grand piano covered in a blanket and a simple vase sprouting feathers. There were no curtains, just a few garments and objects strewn along the walls and the back. It was obvious the Theater Latté Da creative team (set design by Kate Sutton-Johnson, lighting by Barry Browning, costumes by Samantha Haddow, props by Benjamin Olsen) and director Peter Rothstein were inviting the audience wholly into the space and, thus, into the story.
David: And the rest of the production follows suit with creative uses of this minimalist mise-en-scene and actors taking on multiple roles; choices that further demand a suspension of disbelief and an investment in the production. Of course, this was already an aspect of the self-reflective nature of Into the Woods, but that just made it all the more fitting.
The play centers on the quest of a village baker and his wife in pursuit of magic items that will at long last deliver them a child. By following the journey of this central couple, we are introduced via various interactions to the familiar personalities of Cinderella, Jack, Rupunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and other likely ever-after types, whom all in some way undercut common expectations of fairytale devices. Comparing this production’s approach to the recent Disney film adaptation is an instructive study in contrasts: where Disney relayed the play’s many intersecting stories in mostly generic fashion, Latté Da is more true to Sondheim in deconstructing these sources.
Chelsea: With their design choices, Latté Da (as it often does) provides a sharp and fresh look at this oft-produced play. And the casting choices also prove smart: performances are uniformly top-notch–the singing is strong all around, particularly important considering only nine voices are ever present, leaving very little room for error. Additionally, the actors are given a chance to perform with bounding physicality, and the energy is generally very high. David Darrow plays both the baker and Rapunzel’s Prince with surety, smoothly and effectively transitioning between them, and Brandon Brooks, only seventeen years old, shows control and confidence as Jack/Steward, effectively carrying across the conflicted emotions of his characters.
David: And the women are equally strong, ranging from the subtle longing of Britta Ollman’s Cinderella to the spot-on, assertive comedic timing of Shinah Brashears’s Little Red. Also terrific is Greta Oglesby, as the Witch. But really, the whole ensemble does not have a weak link. Perhaps the best compliment a production of Sondheim can get is that it effectively highlights Sondheim as the true star, and this cast, and the production as a whole, manages to do this while also imbuing his work with refreshing creativity.
Chelsea: One of the things this production captures with gusto is how extraordinarily funny this show can be. This is partly aided by the fresh, bare-bones staging and fairytale elements that lend themselves to playfulness with props and costumes, like that the cow looks nothing like a cow. (Fantastically, Rothstein trusts that his audience doesn’t need a paper mache cow onstage.)
David: Some who have seen various renditions of this show may be asking if they really want to pay for another go. Yet, if this production proves anything, it is that good theater wonderfully reminds us that there is no such thing as a definitive text in this venue, and with enough creative talent, a well-written show can unearth new artistic significance. So with certainly, whether or not you have previously seen a production of this show, you are in store for an impressively original experience, and should saddle up and give it a go. You won’t regret the decision.