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Lessons from ‘Into the Woods’

| Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This past Saturday at 4 p.m., I was not watching the football game. I was watching PemCo’s “Into the Woods.”

This might cause die-hard Fighting Irish fans to cry out in horror, but for me, plays on the stage come before plays on the field. That was a sneaky way to confess that I am a theater nerd.

I used to be embarrassed when I confused halftime with intermission and the audience with the fans, but I learned to embrace my lack of cool. I no longer ask: is my thespian showing? I know it is, and I will probably lose cool points because of it.

A question I normally have to ask myself is: are they called cool points, or cool goals or cool touchdowns? “Neither,” a sporty Jiminy Cricket replies. He tends to spontaneously appear on my shoulder to correct me when I’m wrong. “They’re called cool baskets,” he replies, smug as a cricket can be. If you don’t think a cricket can be smug, Jiminy over here will make you think again. He’s the picture of self-satisfaction, a cocky captain of the cricket team.

Anyways, as I was sitting in the theatre and wishing sporty Jiminy Cricket would chirp on someone else’s shoulder, I didn’t regret my choice to pick the show over the game one bit. As a recent transfer to the College of Engineering, I missed the arts, and this musical was like a thick slice of culturally rich cheesecake. I devoured every bit.

During the play, two unlikely characters drew me in: Cinderella’s Prince and the Witch. These characters are probably the least “likable” characters in the play. The witch is, well, a witch, and the prince, in the words of Jane Austen, is a cheating and egocentric tool.

What was wrong with me for liking these characters? Hmmm, I thought to myself. Hmmm, I hummed out loud. Shhhh, the lady in front of me hissed. I listened.

Then I reflected. Why did I feel a tie to the Witch? She had captured my attention since she rapped about beans, but some of her lines in the last act really hit home (a home run — ohmygosh, a sports reference). She wanted to deliver Jack to the Giant (TBT to Jack and the Beanstalk) so the Giant could eat him and spare the rest of the town. The other characters stood there and didn’t know what to do. They knew they didn’t want to sacrifice Jack, but they didn’t have another plan.

The Witch was not afraid to act or take the blame of giving Jack to the Giant. She says to the “good” characters who try half-heartedly to stop her: “You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice,” implying that they liked to act nice, while deep down, they were struggling with whether or not they should let the witch give Jack to the Giant to save themselves.

She continues with, “I’m not good, I’m not bad, I’m just right. I’m the witch; you’re the world.” She recognizes that doing what would bring the greatest happiness to the greatest people (Mill Utilitarianism, yay!) will make her seem evil, but she doesn’t care what others think of her. She acts selfishly, but at least she acts, while the other characters can’t manage to do anything. She’s not exactly a virtuous role model to hold on a pedestal, but there is a lot of wisdom in what she says. Sings.

Cinderella’s Prince, on the other hand, is not exactly wise, but some of his lines provide food for thought (the rich cheesecake). Funny enough, his moment of insight comes right after his brief affair (very brief: only a “moment in the woods”) with the Baker’s Wife. He cheats on Cinderella, which is morally wrong, but he makes a good point when the Baker’s Wife asks him if they will ever have a similarly “stimulating” moment in the woods again. He replies, seeming fittingly obnoxious: “This was just a moment in the woods. … Leave the moment, just be glad for the moment that we had,” implying that they would probably never revisit their one-verse stand.

The Baker’s Wife is put off at first, for she wanted to elongate the moment. She was worrying about what would happen in the future rather than enjoying the moment. How many times do I ruin the moment by thinking about what could happen depending on this moment in the future? When I take an exam, my mind wanders to the future implications of my score. When I take a selfie, I am focusing on communicating what I am doing right now to the oh-so-important social media world rather than enjoying where I am. Cinderella’s Prince reminds me to take a breath instead and enjoy the moment.

Seeing “Into the Woods” helped me see into my soul. Reading this article may help you discover if there is a witch or a prince in you. That was extremely cheesy, but I can’t help it; I’ve eaten too much cheesecake.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Erin Thomassen

I am a freshman double majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and French. PLS (aka the Notre Dame Book Club) is the history of ideas through literature, philosophy, math and science. It was the perfect major for me, because I couldn't possibly choose one subject and hurt the other subjects' feelings. French was also a natural pick, since I have been prancing around my house under the pretense of performing ballet for eighteen years. If someone asks me what I do in my free time, I will tell them that I run and read. What I actually do is eat cartons of strawberries and knit lumpy scarves. If you give me fresh fruit, we will be friends. If we become friends, I will knit you a scarf for Christmas. It may be lumpy, but it will be in your favorite color. And if enough people become my friend, lumpy scarves might just become a trend.

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