By Katherine Karlson
The premise in of most fairy tales is that, by overcoming a great obstacle, you will live happily ever after. It ain’t necessarily so, as you may discover on a journey Into the Woods at Binghamton University’s Watters Theatre starting Friday (Nov. 4).
The Stephen Sondheim musical introduces us to many familiar storybook characters, all of whom learn that their big problem can’t be solved in a single action, said Tommy Iafrate, an associate professor and Director of Musical Theatre at BU, who directs the show. Mellissa Yanchak is the Music Director for the BU Theatre Department production, which features a book by James Lapine.
“It’s a favorite show of mine, and it struck me differently this time. I was surprised to see how these characters follow the rules and still don’t get what they want,” Iafrate said.
“There’s a parallel of the young people who are now graduating post-pandemic to these characters,” he added.
Another COVID-related similarity struck junior Elizabeth McGovern, who is playing Rapunzel. “I can relate to being locked in a tower after going through the pandemic lockdown,” she said.
One of the key protagonists is The Baker, whom Sam Katzman, a sophomore, is portraying for the second time.
“It made me take a new look at the character. He’s not as old as we think he is. This manifests itself in the relationship between him and his wife. I think of them as high school sweethearts, who are now in their 20s and trying to figure it all out,” he said.
Junior Kristina Yim is the unnamed Witch, whom she realizes has much more of a backstory and previous life than seen in classic fairy tales.
“She’s a complex character, who wants to protect what she has (Rapunzel). All she wants is to be loved back,” Yim said.
“You may get what you think you want, but it makes you lose your authentic self, the person who you are,” she added.
McGovern notes that Rapunzel thinks that leaving the tower to go out into the wide world will solve her problem.
“She doesn’t listen to her mom (The Witch), and it becomes a lesson in growing up. You have to experience bad things to experience good things later on in life,” McGovern said.
This dichotomy between fantasy and reality is starkly drawn in the two separate acts of the play, Iafrate said.
“We explore the larger, more communal needs in Act I, but in Act II, that nuance grows into a problem,” he added.
Katzman’s Baker comes to realize this hard truth after he and his wife finally have their long-desired child.
“It’s wanting versus having. After they have the baby, he has to do everything to protect it, and that’s much more difficult because the stakes have been raised,” he said.
Iafrate describes the play as “mentally stimulating and fun,” as audience members are surprised by stories that they think they know.
IF YOU GO: Binghamton University’s Theatre Department will present Into the Woods at 8 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11 and 12 and at 2 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Watters Theatre. Ticket prices range from $20 to $10. Purchase online at www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center/box-office.html or call the box office at 607-777-2787 (777-ARTS) from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays.