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'Into the Woods' Is Not Happily Ever After

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
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The company of Barrington Stage Company's 'Into the Woods' performs during the second act, which was way too dark and depressing for this mom.

Welcome back to the "Mom Review"! My sidekick Noelle is now a teenager at 13 but she is still willing to share her thoughts on the movies, plays and other family-friendly events we experience to give our Berkshires.com readers a different take on the local cultural scene. First, I'll share my thoughts, and then Noelle will share hers.

I would have been OK leaving it at "happily ever after."

Noelle and I saw Barrington Stage Company's "Into the Woods" on Sunday, June 23. I have never seen the play or the movie, so I didn't know what to expect. 

I loved the first act; it was fun and funny and witty and cool. The story, for those of you who also are unfamiliar with it, centers on a childless baker and his wife who are trying to lift the curse that is preventing them from starting a family. The witch who had cast the spell tells them to secure four items in order to negate the spell: a white cow, a red cape, a gold shoe and blonde hair. (The actual list was much more poetic, but you get the idea.) The couple must go "into the woods" to find these items. While there, they encounter fairy-tale favorites Jack (of Beanstalk fame), who has a white cow; Little Red Riding Hood, who of course has a red cape; Cinderella, who has a gold shoe; and Rapunzel, who has blonde hair (which turns out not to be the RIGHT blonde hair, but you'll have to see it to understand that). The spell is broken and they all live happily ever after.

Well, it's not quite that simple. 

There is much hilarity in the resolution of the spell. Barrington Stage's performance has strong actors with lovely voices and gorgeous live music (can't go wrong with Stephen Sondheim). The story of act one is a crowd-pleaser that all ages will enjoy; reminder that Barrington Stage doesn't allow kids under 5 in the theater. At intermission you'll be left tapping your toes and chuckling with happiness at how well it worked out for everyone and how wonderful life is. The baker and his wife found happiness with a baby, Cinderella found her prince, Jack found prosperity with the magic chicken and golden harp, Rapunzel found freedom and Little Red Riding Hood found how nice it is not to be eaten by a wolf and how important it is to always, always listen to your mother.

Ah, intermission. Sweet, sweet intermission.

Can I make a recommendation? If you bring a child under 10, or maybe even 12, just leave at intermission. You'll all be happier. Don't believe me? Fine. Stay and watch it all fall apart. Not for Barrington Stage, where the performance is still as technically riveting as the first half, with perhaps the exception of the vengeful giantess, whose voice just isn't quite right. It's really just the story itself. They say the story is "much-loved," but I don't know by whom. It's dark and messy and just plain depressing. The moral(s)? Be careful what you wish for: You might get it. There are unintended consequences to every action. Children don't listen to their parents so why bother. Retribution and revenge can sometimes be OK.

And let's not even talk about the misogyny of the female character who cheats on her husband and is killed nearly immediately while the (also married) male character who cheats with her gets to live.

What the heck? Where did my fairy tale go?

I've mentioned before in these reviews that there's enough gloom and doom in the world without adding to it. Maybe that wasn't the case when Sondheim wrote "Into the Woods" in the 1980s. I don't know; I was just a kid in the '80s and everything seemed awesome to me then as I roamed my neighborhood free as a bird with no cell phones monitoring me and nothing to do but make up street games and ride my bike until the sun set. But these days, our country is a mess, kids are being locked in cages and shot in schools, adults are yelling at each other on social media and over the dinner table, we seem closer than ever to a nuclear war, and our commander in a chief is a big liar. I need my happily ever after SOMEWHERE.

None of that is the fault of Sondheim, or Barrington Stage. You can't please everyone all the time. If I had a do-over, though, I would have left at intermission and felt happy the rest of the day instead of uneasy and confused.

So in conclusion, here's my note to fellow parents about this show, which runs through July 13: You can't bring kids under 5. Kids up to ages 10 or 12 might enjoy some of the first act (though be aware there is a little sexual content) but likely will be confused by the second act (where there is a little more sexual content and then lots of death). Or just stay home and watch something that actually does end happily ever after. "The Little Mermaid" usually does the trick for me.

Noelle says: I agree with Mom that the second half was creepier and not as good. The first act could be a story on its own. When they said "stay tuned" and I found out there was a second act, I was surprised, because I thought it was over. Kids under 10 won't like it. The takeaway seemed kind of confusing; mine is that parents shouldn't tell their kids to do anything because they're not going to listen anyway, though I don't really think that's what they meant! The costumes and set were great, and I mostly liked the music, though sometimes there was some overlapping that made it hard to understand. I especially thought it was cool to see the band director from my school playing in the live orchestra. I like seeing musicals and the first act was great.

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