By Thom DeMartino
Is there really such a thing as “happily ever after”? What comes after the happy ending?
In its first full production in some time, the Rose Center Theater in Westminster has just raised the curtain on the fairy tale frolic that is “Into the Woods” directed by Tim Nelson, it’s a collection of well-known folk tales that runs more in the vein of the original darker versions of the stories than the more benign contemporary pop culture versions.
The tale opens with the Narrator (Chris Caputo) setting the scene, as he introduces four sets of characters from the old tales. There’s the excitable Little Red Riding Hood (Kristen Daniels) stopping on the way to her grandmother’s house to get bread and sweets from the Baker and his Wife (Vincent Aniceto and Alexis Karol;) the put-upon Cinderella (Katherine Chatman), abused and taunted by her evil stepmother and stepsisters (Meredith Woodson, Cherie Aniceto and Taylor Herbel, respectively) as they prepare for the Prince’s Ball; and the hapless Jack (Trevin Stephenson) and his mother (Mary Murphy-Nelson) as she chides him to take his beloved cow, Milky White (Dafne Casterjon) to market.
As each sets upon their path, we learn the wishes that drive them: for Cinderella, the desire to be included and to attend the Ball; for Jack, that his cow could give milk so he doesn’t have to sell her; and for the Baker and his Wife, to be able to have the child they never could.
The pair are suddenly interrupted by the intrusion of their ill-tempered neighbor, the Witch (Melissa Cook), who reveals that the couple’s infertility stems from her very own curse upon the family: and if they hope to break it, they are tasked with finding four items and return to the Witch before the third and final midnight.
A cloak as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, a cow as white as milk, and hair as yellow as corn shouldn’t be that difficult to find … right?
What follows is an unfamiliar mash-up of familiar stories as the Baker and his Wife quest to find the critical items, and to somehow persuade their owners to part with them to appease the Witch: but what price are they – and all the other characters – willing to pay for their wishes to come true?
Previous to this newest show, the events of the last two years had hampered the Rose Center’s ability to stage larger productions, so “Into the Woods” represents a return to form for the beloved local theater. The addition of the projection screen behind the set to present lifelike if fanciful backgrounds contribute tremendously to the audience’s immersion in the story, and the fast-flowing pace of the production and the seamless interweaving of the individual tales combine to keep the audience eager to see how the twists and turns of these tales play out.
Aniceto and Karol provide the heart of the story as Baker and Wife, as their dreams and desperation to have a child lead them into encounter after encounter, as we see their interactions with the other well-known characters altering the familiar tales in ways we cannot yet imagine; Caputo does double-duty as both Narrator and the precocious Mysterious Stranger, giving perspective and gravitas to the stories (while stealing scenes as well); Kristin Henry is excellent as the isolated Rapunzel, hidden away in a tower to protect her, yet unable to escape her own sorrow; and Chatman’s Cinderella is inspiring, in her questioning of what she truly wants, and wondering whether the fairy tale ending is really what will make her happy.
Cook’s bombastic portrayal of the Witch is at first deliberate caricature, playing the irascible neighbor with a grudge and setting the stage for the Bakers’ quest, but is revealed to be deeper and more layered than the tales would have the audience believe: and her performance in “Stay With Me” is particularly moving.
Special mention to the pair of not-quite-so-charming, all-too-human princes (referred to only as “Cinderella’s Prince” and “Rapunzel’s Prince”) played by Brennan Eckberg and Raymond Tezanos, whose personifications of the patriarchal atmosphere of the old tales and patronizing treatment of their paramours demonstrate that sometimes that behavior is learned, innate, or both… leading to confusion when the women demonstrate their own ideas and agency. (Add to this their rousing number of romantic longing, “Agony!” and see how the pair’s dysfunctional camaraderie shines.)
“Into the Woods” is a triumphant return for the Rose Center Theater, and a treat for local theater-goers of all ages: an illustration that while the old tales can be lessons, there’s always more to learn and experience beyond “happily ever after.”
“Into the Woods.” Vincent Aniceto, Alexis Karol and Melissa Cook star in this multi-layered fairy tale that shows wishes are not always what they seem, and happiness in the eye of the beholder. Playing through March 6 at the Westminster Rose Center Theater, 14140 All American Way, Westminster 92683. Tickets available online at rosecentertheater.com.
Categories: Arts & Leisure