Two Minutes' Traffic: Into the Woods, Kennedy Center
Recently, I was on a phone call talking to someone about the opera. Tickets are so expensive and runs are so limited that I often need some name recognition in the title if I'm going to be interested enough to risk the cost of a ticket, but also, do I really need to see another La Bohème? After my casual remark, I looked to see that that was exactly what was programmed next at a certain local company, and I felt equal parts abashed and justified.
Readers, I have seen me some Into the Woodses, but when the hottest ticket in NYC became the Encores production last summer, I wondered if it was worth it to try and make the trip. Nah, I figured, despite the raves and the extensions and the limited Broadway run that kept extending. I have been in those woods enough for now. But then, a tour was announced and it was coming to DC, so yes, of course I plunked down the cash to go.
Was there theatre magic afoot that night? Absolutely- but it wasn't where I expected to find it. The first half was fun, and my GOD, people weren't lying about how Kennedy Kanegawa's puppetry as Milky White the cow was the scene stealer of the night (never before have I realized with absolute heartbreak during intermission that Milky White wasn't as key to the plot of Act II). The jokes were well played, Stephanie J. Block can belt about the beans, Katy Geraghty was fresh and fun, it all worked like clockwork- just like the show always does. At intermission on the evening of February 23, an announcement was heard just before the curtain rose- Jason Forbach (who had been hamming it up as Rapunzel's Prince) was stepping into Sebastian Arcelus' role as the Baker for the remainder of the performance, and Sam Simahk was going on as Rapunzel's Prince.
For the rest of the night, I was mesmerized. I've said many times, the best thing about theatre is that we get to see actors act, we don't have to pretend that we aren't all playing make believe together and some of us are truly rockstars at it. Forbach went from showing us expertly pitched comedy to genuine vulnerability and pathos, stepping into the Baker's apron as though he'd been there all along; Simahk went from chilling backstage to bounding right into the frills and chest thrusting of the Prince as though he'd spent the whole first half preparing in the wings. It was a hell of an achievement, but it also was just beautifully done, Forbach's Baker in particular.
At the end of the night, a friend texted me, wondering if it was worth a few hours' drive to get to a later stop on tour closer to her hometown. It's a very solid production and done very well, but I had to tell her, the bones of the show didn't feel new as they had when I saw Fiasco Theatre bring their own version to the Kennedy Center years ago. The magic of this performance was in the frisson of the unexpected understudy, of seeing some wonderful actors do their best work. We've been in these woods before, and lovely as the paths are to roam again, I need a little more.