Theater Dept. Invites You “Into The Woods” to Darken Your Favorite Fairy Tales
Tayana Osuna, arts & culture editor
Augsburg just ran its newest theater production, the ambitious musical “Into the Woods,” directed by theater professor and department chair Darcey Engen. Immediately when entering the auditorium you’re greeted by a peculiar and rather original stage setup. The stage goes along the center of the room with three separate planes that the audience is then seated opposite of each other with the performances dividing them. After seating myself, the narrator (Melissa Gubrud), asks for volunteers to read off of a few note cards to remind us to silence our phones, that no flash photography is allowed, and to… clean out the litter box? Oh right, that’s the Narrator’s to-do list!
Besides having a cat, the narrator of the story helps the audience out with context and provides a sincere and humorous style of storytelling. The narrator also acts as the story’s pause and play button who shouts “STOP” and “RESUME” whenever a quick costume change or scenery modification is needed. The story the narrator tells is a story of familiar fairy tales that are all connected by the woods. Little Red Riding Hood (Lauren Stadler), Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk (Nathan Olson), Cinderella (Marion Bangoura), and all their other core characters are introduced to the audience. At the center, we hear about a baker (Luke Reilly), and his wife (Minna O’Connell), who so desperately want to have a child but can’t for some unknown mysterious reason. However, we learn that their next door neighbor happens to be a witch (Kayla Marie Mielke), who tells them of a curse put upon the baker’s home long ago due to his father’s wrongdoings. His father had taken some of the witch’s magic beans for his hungry pregnant wife when trespassing on her gorgeous garden, and in consequence of that the witch cursed the family and took their child as collateral. That child happens to be the child from another fairy tale we all are familiar with; Rapunzel, played by Sarah Burke, who gives the damsel such a beautiful and melodic voice.
The baker and his wife are told by the witch that in order to lift the curse they must gather a few materials for an unusual potion. Throughout this journey we get to see the baker and his wife encounter several bumps in the road in hopes of having a child. In the end, they collect all the items, one from each of the familiar tales and the potion is conjured up by feeding the cow the ingredients and milking it. The witch returns to her natural, although magic free, state after consuming the enchanted milk. She lifts the curse off the baker and his wife and they all live happily ever after. At least for the length of intermission, because when they all returned another dilemma had arisen.
The second act contained a lot of death, adultery and loss of purpose. All these tales came even closer together to fight against a Giant (Danny Reinan), that came down from another mistakenly placed beanstalk in the pursuit to avenge her husband that was killed during Jack’s search for wealth. While searching for Jack to kill him she kills the narrator, Rapunzel and the baker’s wife. Jack’s mother (Tina Brauer), also dies when defending her son by the Prince’s Steward (Andy Tollin), who hits her a little too hard to stop her from upsetting the giant and potentially putting them all in danger. After several casualties, and an affair amongst the prince and the baker’s wife, the Baker, Little Red, Cinderella and Jack make a plan of attack to lure the Giant towards Rapunzel’s old tower that is surrounded by a gooey substance where the Giant gets stuck and is then slain by Jack whilst trapped.
Honestly, the whole show felt like a montage of my childhood, aside from the murder. I appreciated how different the first act was from the second act. Seeing everyone working together in the second act gave each character more personality and dimension. Those connected scenes all felt so fluid and united, and when I spoke to Savanna Gorbunow, who played both Little Red’s granny and Cinderella’s stepmother, she stated that “the ensemble parts were the most difficult.” She shared how “when there were scenes where [they] were all together it was a challenge to get everything coordinated properly.” When I asked her what else she struggled with she said that “knowing when to be super extra and when to hold back” was especially difficult when playing the evil stepmother specifically.
Gorbunow wasn’t the only one who played multiple parts. Max Jacobson, who played Milky-White the cow and the Mysterious Man, shared how he “really liked playing both characters” and that it actually wasn’t too different or difficult than having one part, especially since he “didn’t have any lines as the cow, but it was still a lot of fun.”
Lastly, we have Minna O’Connell who played the Baker’s Wife, and when asked what was the most fulfilling part of the production she shared how it was “seeing it all come together and being able to be a part of this ensemble” and that it was really rewarding to “see [her] colleagues being able to step into their roles and really blossom, and [they] all just kind of bloomed together.”
“Into the Woods” was a phenomenal production and I so much admire all the work and passion that got put into it. It ran four sold out performances from April 7th-10th. To learn about upcoming Augsburg Theater performances, follow their Instagram @augsburgtheater.