A confession is in order. I love Sondheim. I adored “Into The Woods” when it was presented by The Oregon Shakespeare Company at the Wallis in 2014. I rushed to take grandchildren to the 2015 film with Meryl Streep. I could not wait to go again to the Fiasco Theater production currently at the Ahmanson. For me, Sondheim is like opera: just because you have seen one production of one of his plays does not mean you should skip it the next time there is an opportunity to see it again. Repetition only enhances, but not everyone will agree with me.
In 2014 I wrote, “”Into The Woods” is a mixture of familiar tales: “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella” are combined into an adult cocktail that all ages can appreciate at their own levels. You can trust Sondheim to eschew the saccharine and go instead for the blood and guts. In any one else’s hands this might become a ridiculous exercise, but in Sondheim’s the results are very tasty blood and guts indeed.” Like all fairy tales there is a moral. The woods are a dark and dangerous place, but if you do not wander in and deal with your own demons you will never grow up.
You may have noticed there are no names of actors singled out in the heading above. It is not an oversight. Fiasco is a company of graduates of Brown University’s MFA acting program. “Into The Woods” is an ensemble play and this is very much an ensemble production. They work almost seamlessly together. The word fiasco originally referred to commedia dell’arte performances that went hilariously wrong. This modern ensemble has the romping spirit of a college group and the polished acting of a troop of seasoned professionals, as they are. If one actor steals the show it is Anthony Chatmon II. It matters not if he is playing Cinderella’s Prince, the wolf, or Lucinda, one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. He brings style and panache to each role. When he and Darick Pead, the other prince and fellow lothario, gallop around the stage on their stick horses seeking their next conquest they are irresistible. Unfortunately Stephanie Umoh’s witch did not quite stand up to the performances of Miriam A. Laube at the Wallis or Meryl Streep.
The energetic actors are also the musicians. The stage is a hodgepodge of props thrown around like clothes and stuff in an adolescent’s room. The one false note is the backdrop: so many ropes I would not have known they were representing vines had I not read the program, but that is a minor gripe.
The real problem is that this is a production for a more intimate house. The Ahmanson is not an intimate house. But (sigh) that is where productions like this are likely to end up in Los Angeles. For anyone who has not seen “Into The Woods” before, it is a must. For others, it may be close to three hours too much.