When things go south, we tell stories. We couch our mistakes in lies; we cloud harsh truths in delusion.
It has always been easier to proffer fantasies and chase happily ever afters than to mine our souls for the strength to fight reality. Just ask any Taylor Swift song.
Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods knows as well as anybody that happily ever afters are as hollow as a dying oak. No matter how hard we try to wrangle our personal narratives into something resembling “fulfilling,” we are always left with an Act 3 that tramples our dreams. Even if things are going well for us, we’re never really out of the woods. Just ask that one specific Taylor Swift song.
There’s a beauty, however, in the dichotomy between “happily ever after” and “reality,” and this is evident in the set design for Old Dominion University’s production of Into the Woods, presented at Sandler Center in the Miller Studio Theatre. The show, which originally ran at ODU in late November and early December, is marked with beautiful, translucent plastic trees which suggest, depending on how the light hits them, either melancholy or magic. Life, too, can be either melancholy or magical, according to Taylor Swift’s publicist, Tree Paine. Probably. (Paine’s first name inspired the prominent tree-related imagery of “Out of the Woods.” Probably.)
“Our lighting can make the trees change from beautiful to scary to melancholy, according to the situation,” says Jim Lyden, who has served as technical director and set designer for both the ODU and Miller Studio productions. “It’s like the show. All these children’s stories seem very innocent, but they are very often stark and graphic.”
For the uninitiated, Into the Woods follows a bevy of traditional, well-known fairy tale characters as they deal with the repercussions of their often unrealistic goals and expectations. It’s the perfect showcase for Lyden’s clever special effects and bright, whimsical lighting designs.
“I think theater is its own kind of magic,” he says. “I don’t think we need to be creating a perfect illusion with scenery as much as the audience needs to be creating it with their own mind.”
Lyden and the show’s director, Brian Nedvin, had to forego use of certain parts of the set in order to adapt the show to its new, smaller space at Sandler Center. However, many of the show’s actors saw the new production at Sandler as an opportunity to revisit their characters from a different approach than they had taken at ODU.
“Because we’ve had a break from the show for a little over a month, we’re able to come back to it with some fresh ideas,” says Noelle Peterson, who plays one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. “We have this rare chance to change or add things in order to make [the show] the best it’s been.”
With 17 cast members, a prop cow named Kevin, a multitude of special effects, and a strikingly colorful set, Into the Woods is bound to be good even without all the recent changes. If you wish, you can still catch it tonight (Saturday) or tomorrow (Sunday) night at Sandler Center’s Miller Studio at 7:30 p.m.
Into The Woods is ODU’s first three-way… co-production, that is – between the university’s theatre and opera departments and the Sandler Center. Tickets are $32. Call the Sandler Center box office at (757) 385-ARTS, or buy online here. Then leave us comment and let us know how you think the experiment worked out.