Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Found in an Intimate Woods

Magazine article The Sondheim Review

Found in an Intimate Woods

Article excerpt

Found in an intimate Woods

Small Sarasota venue requires inventive creative approaches

REVIEW BY JAY HANDELMAN

When he was first asked to direct Into the Woods in a 99-seat black box theatre with no fly or wing space, Larry Alexander wasn't sure it could be done. After all, Stephen Sondheim's musical which mixes together a variety of familiar and invented fairy-tale characters has a large cast and is usually done on a big stage with lots of special effects.

However, long before opening night in January 2007, he was happy with the results because the small space "forced me and the set designer to be really creative and really focus on minimalism as far as movement of the set."

Of course, "There are times you wish you had a 45-foot opening with flies and fireworks and all that. But I'm really loving the way the whole thing has shaped up and grown, and I don't think that we've made any concessions."

People think of Into the Woods as a "big show," Alexander says, "but it's ultimately intimate because most of it deals with characters' private thoughts, fears and dilemmas. It becomes almost a chamber piece."

The production was presented by the Venice Little Theatre, a Sarasota community theatre, in its intimate Stage II space. It featured a cast of 18. Three weeks of performances sold out quickly.

"I'm kind of glad we were in the small theatre, because it forced everybody to rethink a lot of things. We didn't have any of the traffic problems I was anticipating. The actors were amazing about figuring out where they had to go. I don't think we had to make any compromises. Somehow we managed to get everything we wanted into it."

Critics and audiences raved about the production, which featured one of the best casts among the amateur actors in Southwest Florida, many of whom turn out whenever a Sondheim musical is staged in the region. The small theatre also meant that audience members were much closer to the performers and could clearly hear every word of Sondheim's tongue-twisting lyrics.

"People kept telling me that they really enjoyed being that close," Alexander said. "They could really understand the words. And even if we didn't think so at first, it really is an intimate show."

Though the casting was important, much of the credit in this case deservedly goes to scenic designer John Danielle, who created a set with a series of flat panels to indicate different homes, enough spaces for actors to enter and exit along, and several visual surprises. Parts of a table that held bread and rolls in the Baker's house were flipped over to disappear or to become other objects needed during the show. …

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