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Wednesday November 15, 2000

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'Into the Woods' is carefree fun

By Shaun Clayton

Arizona Daily Wildcat

ART show provides entertainment, but no deep meaning

The Arizona Repertory Theatre's production of "Into the Woods" is much like a ride at Disneyland - it is engineered well and is great fun, but not a deep and moving experience.

The play, written by Stephen Sondheim, combines disparate fairy-tale moments with their own darker roots to create a playful work that addresses deeper, social issues.

Nick Sarando and Sarah Fleming as the Baker and the Baker's Wife did a superb job of playing subtle and neutral characters in a play full of intense and exaggerated personas, which is how they should be.

Contrasted to that are characters like Little Red Riding Hood, played by Melissa WolfKlain. Her energetic bounce and high-pitched voice were enough to make anyone love her or kill her, whichever was preferred.

One flaw in this production, it was the direction. "Into the Woods" is actually two plays, one of a traditional fairy-tale nature, and one of a "what-if" nature - one where fairy-tale characters suddenly have to deal with difficult real-life issues.

That duality does not come across in this production. After the intermission, the play progresses into the same campy style of the first half of the play. This tends to bring the seriousness of the death of characters down, making them a non-event - as if a player is injured during a football game, and the team just left him on the field and kept on playing.

Despite this, the technical work is excellent. There are so many complex and different elements that go into this play, from trucking on sets, to dropping birds on strings, to huge fake hands falling onto the stage, and the crew members handled all of these intricacies smoothly.

Lighting is done precisely, with the right blend of colors to make the forest scenes all the more real. Transitions in color and light intensity went smoothly and were not jarring to the audience.

The costumes are nicely crafted. The Wicked Stepmother and the Wicked Stepsisters wear fine dresses with hoop skirts that make them look like giant cakes, and the princes wear black outfits that make them look like a cross between Spanish matadors and Fascist dictators. Overall, the costumes are a mixture of clothing styles that are different enough to be fantastical, but have familiar elements that make them easy for the audience to accept- something not easily achieved.

Makeup was also done well, with the Witch's prosthetic nose looking the part - wrinkled, old, and more importantly staying on the face, despite almost getting slammed against a wall at one point. Red Riding Hood had blushing red, Raggedy Ann cheeks. Each performer had makeup that did what it was supposed to do- enhance his or her character.

Another down point was the control of sound. The music, while well orchestrated, was just too loud. In some cases, it was completely drowning out the performers' singing. The people at the control boards should know that this is not a rock concert.

"Into the Woods," despite its occasional faults, is technically and aesthetically excellent - as long as most people who go just want a good time without having to worry about the complex moral issues the play addresses. It provides an entertaining night of theater for those who want to get away from it all and enter the land of "once upon a time."