“Into the Woods,” is a timeless classic originally written by James Lapine with music from Stephen Sondheim, was brought to life by Paul Barnes who has a long history of theater in Ashland. He was one of the founders of the Oregon Cabaret Theater and was education director for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The last time he directed a SOU show was his 2013 production of “Our Town.”
“We were delighted to welcome [Barnes] back to the SOU stage,” said Sean O’Skea, the Scenic Designer for “Into the Woods” and Co-Chair of the Theatre Arts Program at SOU.
First stepping into the SOU Main Stage was a wonder. Unlike other productions of “Into the Woods,” where the set is a section of the woods, this production was set within a two-story library. While trees burst through the open windows and leaves were scattered about the floor, the real take away from this set was the mass collection of literature filling the stage.
Austin Ewing, who played Cinderella’s Prince, said, “I thought the set was nice because it felt really centered around Ashland specifically. Setting this production in a library sort of concentrated the world of the play around text and stories, and I think that’s something that really connects with Ashland since the town is centered around Shakespeare and the arts.”
This play is certainly one to highlight stories. For those unfamiliar, “Into the Woods” tells the fragmented tales of multiple beloved fairy tale characters that continuously cross paths as they each attempt to fulfill their individual desires. Famous characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood are just a few of the fairy tales that play an intricate role within the story.
The play has two extremely contrasting halves. The first act has a clear beginning, middle, and end as the characters each imagine a wish and journey into the woods to find a way to achieve it. The second act, however, tells the grim aftermath of the cost for achieving those dreams.
During the show talk back on closing night, Gracie Jurczyk, who played the Witch, said “the second half is much more human than the first half is. To be quite honest, for me personally performing the first half of the show is not as truthful as the second half. In the first half we’re living in this fairy tale and the second half we are living these people’s actual lives.”
Her fellow cast mates were all in agreement as Barnes questioned, “What happens when you get the wishes you think you want? What is the cost, what is the result?”
SOU’s Into the Woods was a phenomenal performance. The set, the costumes, and the props were so intricately designed it felt like being actually transported into a fairy tale. The actors’ performances were spectacular, especially since they were challenged by Sondheim’s intense music. Since all the actors were able to walk away with a deep understanding of a play as seemingly simple as “Into the Woods,” it is clear they were able to strongly connect to work. The whole cast and crew brought purpose and meaning into this play.
The Oregon Center of the Arts’ production of “Into the Woods” closed on Sunday, Nov. 18 to a sold-out crowd and a standing ovation.
Written by: Maggie Alvarez