By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep …”
Just in time for the grand re-opening of California currently underway, the Gem Theater in Garden Grove has thrown wide its doors to the public, inviting audiences to accompany the One More Productions ensemble “Into the Woods.”
Directed by Damien Lorton, “Woods” is a tapestry of familiar fairy tales, following the tales of a number of characters from the old stories: the long-suffering Cinderella (a scintillating Erika Baldwin), longing to join the royal ball along with her malicious and abusive Stepmother (Lisa Katherine Taylor) and spiteful stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda (a delightfully catty Fiona Wynder and Emmy Fry, respectively); the slow-witted and gentle-hearted Jack (Matthew Rangel) and his mother (an excellent standout performance by Yllary Cajahuaringa) as they struggle to put food on the table; and the Baker and his Wife (Bryan Fraser and Nicole Cassesso), wishing they could conceive a child.
After a quick visit from the effervescent (and hungry) Little Red Ridinghood (Savannah Clayton) on her way to her Grandmother’s (Kaia Fister), the Bakers are visited by their cantankerous neighbor, the Witch (a characteristically marvelous and delightfully over-the-top Adriana Sanchez, gnawing the scenery.) It seems the sins of the father are to blame for the couples infertility, as the Witch relates how the Baker’s father pillaged her garden years before: and not only did she curse the family line, but took elder baker’s young daughter for her own.
Protective of the girl to a fault, the Witch has hidden the abundantly-tressed and beautiful Rapunzel (Courtney Hays) in a high and door-less tower in the woods; those same woods where each of the sets of characters must travel through to fulfill their wishes.
Jack must sell his beloved cow at market; Red Ridinghood travels to her grandmother’s house (save for a brief, ominous and bawdy interaction with the Big Bad Wolf); Cinderella makes her way to the Ball; and if the Bakers seek to lift the Witch’s curse, they must bring her a special four items… that happen to belong to the other characters.
What follows is a comedy of errors, as the desperate couple quest to gather the ingredients before the third and final midnight, while contending with the morality of their actions and the lengths they – and all the characters – will go to, to bring their wishes to fruition.
But the best of intentions, as they say…
Though it may feel like Groundhog Day with so many re- and re-re-openings of venues with the gradual relaxing of restrictions, “Into the Woods” at the Gem is the one you’ve been waiting for. The OMP troupe, as always, puts their hearts into this show, and it shows. Equipped with a dazzling new state-of-the-art lighting system and upgrading their lobby as well, the Gem is pulling out all the stops to bring audiences the best in local theater.
As previous Gem attendees already know, when it comes to Sanchez and Cassesso, the quality of the performances remains without question, often unparalleled – and it is no exception here. Sanchez is magnetic with her rapid-fire delivery of the musically rhythmic banter, and Cassesso’s hysterical delivery, yet moving portrayal of a woman single-minded when it comes to her dream of motherhood is powerful – particularly when she starts to wonder what lies beyond motherhood, in those same mysterious woods.
Fraser’s Baker is earnest and well-intentioned, beautifully sympathetic as he struggles with his family’s legacy and curse; Jon Michell’s performance as the Steward, though relatively brief, makes quite the comedic impact (wink wink, nudge nudge); Rangel’s Jack, with his innocence and lack of guile, could arguably be regarded as the heart of the piece; and the pair of seductive and suave princes (Nick Seigel and Hayden Mangum) delight with performances that are indeed quite charming – even if they themselves are as lecherous as the day is long.
Baldwin’s Cinderella is breathtaking: while the show moves in a direction more in line with the older and darker versions of those same fairy tales, this iteration of the mistreated stepsister is more assertive and self-aware… realizing that what she sought, might not be all she dreamed it to be.
Last but not least, “Into the Woods” cannot be discussed without the dual characters of the Narrator and Mysterious Man – both played with aplomb by James Scognamillo. The audience is privy to his fussing over the set and straightening costumes of the other players in the dim lighting at the show’s opening; and his framing and witty delivery is certainly one of the highlights of an already stellar show.
Welcoming back audiences with a beloved Sondheim classic, “Into the Woods” at the Gem is a magical and inviting jaunt into the fantasy of the old tales … and the challenging realities that accompany it.
“Into the Woods,” Adriana Sanchez, Nicole Cassesso and Bryan Fraser star in this fairy tale journey to find where our wishes lead us. Playing through March 27 at the Gem Theater, 12852 Main Street, Garden Grove, CA, 92840. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail email@example.com for ticketing information. Appropriate for all ages.
Categories: Arts & Leisure