At some point in our lives—blowing out birthday candles, throwing pennies into a fountain, or catching dandelion fuzz—we all make wishes, just in case superstitions hold true. But as adults we also know to be careful what we wish for.
That is the primary theme of the fantastical Tony Award-winning musical “Into the Woods,” by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. And who better to star in a fantasy about wishes than characters from the fairy tales we grew up with—Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Cinderella? But although this musical, which runs June 22 – July 1 at the Rockwall Performing Arts Center, includes a who’s-who of characters from our childhood, their stories weave a tapestry of dark realism.
A baker and his wife yearn for a child, but a witch curses their family. As the couple travel through the woods to search for a reversal of the tragic spell, they become entwined in the plights and stories of the other fairy-tale characters. Then just as everyone believes their wishes have come true, karma makes an unwelcome appearance. What is happiness for one can be terror for another; one’s truth might be another’s lie— it’s all a matter of perspective. And every action has its consequences.
Although this musical includes the familiar characters from children’s books, it is not just the surface story of good overcoming evil, but a cautionary tale of the need to consider all outcomes for each action we take. In Act 1, wishes come true, but in Act 2, catastrophe follows as the consequence. Act 1 can be considered the selfishness of childhood, with Act 2 portraying the turbulence of adolescence and adulthood and the moral dilemmas we all must face.
“Let’s face it, anyone who locks someone in a tower is capable of complex torment and very fractured relationships.”
According to Rockwall Summer Musical director Bill Sizemore, “It challenges us to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong … what is good and bad … With the conflict of classes in our world today, I believe this is a timely piece. My hope, my prayer, is that it will challenge us to consider how focusing only on our personal desires can have devastating impacts to our society.”
“Into the Woods” has been performed many times since it’s debut in 1986, but Sizemore uses his own vision for this year’s Rockwall performance, putting a unique spin on the story. “We’ve chosen not to present it like a children’s fairy tale, but with a more humanistic version of the stories contained within the musical.” The witch is not just the mean hag who terrorizes people, but a complex individual with a depth of character. “Let’s face it, anyone who locks someone in a tower is capable of complex torment and very fractured relationships,” says Sizemore.
Actress Katie Hall Mendonça portrays the Witch as “a real timeless mother … one who is handing down a pattern of abuse, anger and punitive behavior she inherited from her own mother.” Mendonça considers the witch not only an abuser but also a victim of PTSD. She hopes her performance relates the vulnerable side of her character, why she is the way she is. “I hope that the audience, after feeling true horror at the witch’s behavior, can glimpse at least a shred of humanity and … get that ‘why’ we all look for in situations where humans behave with evil intent.”
Robert San Juan plays the Baker as an average “every man.” According to San Juan, his character “deals with very real issues of insecurity and inadequacy brought on by feelings of parental abandonment and marital conflict.” The baker teaches the lesson that “life challenges are better and made richer, not always easier … when you work side by side with others, accepting their help, and putting your own pride aside.”
“Into the Woods” is a fairy tale for adults, giving the audience a peek into what can happen on the flip-side. Sometimes fairy tales really do come true. But be warned – the fallout can be devastating.