Review: Into The Woods an existential oak planted by young actors

The Hen (Alex Killam) and Jack (Marc Platt) sit on a page of Jung
The Hen (Alex Killam) and Jack (Marc Platt) sit on a page of Jung's existential writing, considering the true costs of gaining golden eggs in Chalkboard Theatre's marvelous musical Into The Woods.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

We thought it was safe to go back Into The Woods, before act two started Friday night.

Then Chalkboard Theatre viewers in the T. Gil Bunch theatre had sober second thoughts about happily ever after being so happy.

Stiff misgivings about finding love, security and fulfillment — without guilt, regret and greed — honeycombed one of Cowichan's best independent-youth plays in years.

Directors Tilly Lorence and Michelle Tremblay, plus musical director Laura Cardriver, steered two-dozen adept actors through the demanding existential musical on James O'Leary's multi-dimensional set.

Action was anchored by a huge stage page pulled from psychologist Carol Jung's red book.

That reference to Jung's theories of the collective unconscious, and archetypical figures, was perfect for illustrating James Lapine's book.

It was backed by Stephen Sondheim's near-operatic tunes — nicely played by Cardriver's stage sextet, and well performed by Chalkboard's choreographed students.

Act one sees conflicts dramatically resolved by Alan Park's Baker and his wife (Kari Cowan), who beg, borrow, and steal to meet the demands of Camellia Celeste's nasty Witch.

To lift the crone's hex, and have kids, the baking couple needed hair from Rapunzel (Sierra MacKay), a slipper from Cinderella (Kelsey Cadwallader), the cape from Little Red Ridinghood (Sarah Kaufmann), and the Milky White cow from Jack (Marc Platt).

Action was nicely narrated by Tyus Bro's Mysterious Man.

Good beat evils.

We were peppered with well-worn morals of wishes coming true with ample effort: 'The harder to get, the better to have', and 'Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor'.

So far so good. Some folks even thought the show was over.

Then we were ushered back into the woods for act two — society's cold, cruel world of reality.

Characters' survival saw cunning, kindness, and bravery triumph against chaos, selfishness, and deceit — plus terror from the giant's wife.

She seeks revenge after Jack kills her husband act one. The body count rose, claiming the weak and strong.

Despite the show's 2 1/2-hours, messages arrived about karma's kickback, blame games, and pointless vengeance.

Woods became a thicket of thinking about what matters, what's real, and what's right.

It was firmly carried by actors staying in character.

Convincing expression, adequate volume, and decent diction lent viewers a valuable look into human failings, and the loving redemption that can bring peace of mind.

But happiness ever after remained a mere fairy tale in this wisely insightful production.

Dramatic musical-fantasy rating: 9 virtues out of 10.

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