By Karen Isaacs
As I was watching the Fiasco Theater’s “intimate” production of Into the Words now playing at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater, I felt out of place. Many in the audience were laughing heartily and enthusiastically applauding. I was not. And the acclaim was not universal — there were more than a few empty seats after the intermission.
In fact, I was trying figure out why this iconic work — which has just had a very excellent film adaption — was being given a SNL treatment.
In part I blamed John Doyle. For those don’t remember, director John Doyle has mounted several classic shows with limited casts and no orchestra. Instead he used a piano and had the actors play various instruments. Obviously when they are performing their roles, they cannot play. In this production, the result is a score and orchestrations that seem more like amateur groups than Broadway. While it worked to some extent in Doyle’s Company and to a lesser extent in his Sweeney Todd, it does not work here.
When you re-imagine a classic work, one rule should guide the creators — does the re-imaging add to the meaning of the work and does it fulfill the author’s intentions and the themes and tone of the work. OR does it subvert what the authors intended or diminish the work. This is true whether you are setting Othello in South Africa, A Doll’s House in 21st century suburbia, or Oklahoma1 in Alaska.
By the way, this production originated at the McCarter Theater in New Jersey.
Here, it is not that the directors have changed the time or period of the piece, so much has they have changed the tone. This production is played for laughs — not smiles or gentle amusement but laughs. It has become a parody of itself.
I wonder how Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine really feel about it.
I did not have an objection to the cast of 11 playing multiple roles — the fact that the actress (Emily Young) playing Little Red Ridinghood also plays Rapunzel did not upset the flow of the piece. After all the two are never on stage at the same time. Nor did I strongly object to two men playing Cinderella’s step-sisters. But the two princes riding around on children’s hobby horses just made it seem ludicrous.
So apart from the misguided approach to the show, were there things to like?
Yes. The setting was imaginative and worked for the show. Chandeliers hung high above the stage, with pieces of musical instruments on the side walls. The costumes — which are minimal — are clever and do delineate the characters. Even though performers are playing multiple roles, you never are confused about what character is being portrayed.
The performances are good — these are talented young people. The Fiasco Theater is an ensemble company that was started by graduates of the Brown University/Trinity Rep MFA program. They can act, move and sing well. I particularly enjoyed Patrick Mulyryan as Jack and Jessie Austrian as the Baker’s Wife and Ben Steinfeld as the Baker. By the way, the latter two only play a single role each.
But somehow, the schtick and gimmicks drain the emotion from this piece.
So, I may be a curmudgeon, but this is one Into the Woods that I did not enjoy.
Into the Woods by the Fiasco Theater Company is at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater on W. 46th St. It runs to April 12. For tickets contact Roundabout.