Chicago Theater Review: INTO THE WOODS (The Hypocrites at Mercury Theater)

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by Erika Mikkalo on February 16, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

WHEN PLAYTIME IS OVER

Somewhere between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After” there is a very adult world of tests, losses, disappointments, and grief. Despite this, we assert our agency; or as a baker’s wife sings in Into the Woods, “If you know what you want, then you go and you find it, and you get it.” The challenges and complications of getting what you want, or what you thought you wanted, are at the heart of The Hypocrites’ current production at the Mercury Theater.

Blake Montgomery (kneeling), Will Skrip, Michael Brown, Hillary Marren, Sarah Bockel, Allison  Hendrix, Kate Harris, Joel Ewing, Aubrey McGrath, and Hannah Dawe star in The Hypocrites'  production INTO THE WOODS, now playing through March 30 at Mercury Theater Chicago,  3745 N Southport Ave.

James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 musical already invokes childhood through its mash-up of traditional Brothers Grimm fairy tales: The characters from “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack in the Beanstalk,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” are united by the quest of a childless baker and his wife to start a family. This production, under the direction of Geoff Button, doubles down by setting the performance in a playroom. Sally Dolembo’s costumes are kept in chests like old steamer trunks of “dress up” clothes, and the walls of William Boles’ set are covered with scrawled stick figures. Molded plastic school chairs surround the proscenium, and the cast of ten actors occupy these seats both during a nonchalant investigation of the set during preshow, and while not performing during the show.

Michael Brown, Blake Montgomery (obstructed), Aubrey McGrath, and Joel Ewing star in The  Hypocrites' production INTO THE WOODS, now playing through March 30 at Mercury Theater  Chicago

The twist of presenting a play constructed from fairytales as a “let’s pretend” children’s hour is well-matched to the content of the first act. There is a litany of wishes, and each character makes an explosive gesture of gathered fingers swooping into the right of the mouth and the bursting forth into a splayed palm and straightened arm whenever the word “wish” is said. Tulle skirts become ball gowns when donned over jeans, Rapunzel’s tower is a playground slide, and Cinderella’s flying friends appear in the form of a Technicolor bird mobile that could be found in any nursery. The trees of these woods—dozens of balloons affixed to bungee cords—provide a cartoonish background which reminds us that in a child’s hands a stick may alternately be a tree, a sword, or a scepter.

Allison Hendrix stars as the “Baker’s Wife” and Joel Ewing stars as the “Baker” in The  Hypocrites' production INTO THE WOODS, now playing through March 30 at Mercury Theater  Chicago, 3745 N Southport Ave.

However, the conceit that provides bright and light touches in the first act is incongruous in the second. Wishes are fulfilled, but happiness remains elusive, and the diminishing number of characters increasingly realizes that actions have consequences, even—or particularly—when the action is getting what you want. The indefatigable cheerfulness of the set’s balloons seems almost spiteful as the characters grapple with destruction, abandonment, and loss. There are some attempts at destruction in the second act: The Narrator, played by Blake Montgomery, goes from Mr. Rogers to Dr. Doom, affably putting on his cardigan in Act I, and then knocking down parts of the set in Act II.

Joel Ewing, Kate Harris, Will Skrip, Hillary Marren (obstructed), Aubrey McGrath, Blake  Montgomery (obstructed), Allison Hendrix, and Hannah Dawe star in The Hypocrites' production INTO THE WOODS, now playing through March 30 at Mercury Theater Chicago,

The cast performs admirably, with Sarah Bockel bringing both knock-out vocals and tangible sorrow to the roles of Cinderella and Rapunzel.  Aubrey McGrath’s Jack is a lovable young rube, Allison Hendrix as the Baker’s Wife demonstrates significant comic skill and Joel Ewing’s everyman Baker convincingly oscillates between being resolute and perplexed. I wish…that the staging were not so uneven, which would have allowed them to more fully display their skills.

Kate Harris, Aubrey McGrath, Hannah Dawe, Joel Ewing, Hillary Marren and Allison Hendrix  star in The Hypocrites' production INTO THE WOODS, now playing through March 30 at  Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N Southport Ave.

photos by Evan Hanover

Into the Woods
The Hypocrites
Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Avenue
scheduled to end on March 30, 2014
EXTENDED to April 5, 2014
for tickets, call 773-325-1700 or visit www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com
for more info, visit www.the-hypocrites.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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