Into the Woods

My family went to go see the film version of Into the Woods the last day it was showing in our local movie theater. Turns out Christmas is actually a really inconvenient time to try to catch a movie. Between get-togethers and parties and trips and new semesters, there just wasn’t a good time. But we desperately wanted to see it. At least, my little sister and I. Katherine was in the show in high school. I’d loved it since I first listened to the soundtrack.

I’ve always loved fairy tales. Not necessarily the Disney ones. I loved the original ones, dripping in gore as they might be. I remember my dad telling me “One Eye, Two Eye, Three Eye”, a grittier version of “Cinderella”, the excitement as I realized these were stories meant to be retold, changed each time in the telling. Into the Woods caught this love by telling the Grimm versions first, complete with bloody shoes, and then pulling them apart, shaping a new story out of the ashes.

But that wasn’t the real reason I threw together the outing on the last day the movie was in theaters. The real reason was hidden in my purse. A bottle of prenatal vitamins, the means by which I was going to tell my parents about their new grandchild. The movie was a convenient excuse. Albeit a much anticipated and enjoyable excuse.

One of my favorite things about this show has always been it’s discussion of the relationships between parenting and storytelling. Stories are the means by which we understand the world. Parents help deliver that, for good or ill. I love the tradition of one actor playing both the Baker’s father and the Narrator.  The movie keeps this alive by having the Baker narrate. Father tells us stories, even if those stories trip us up in the end.

Even though Caleb and I had known that I was pregnant for almost two days, our new identities as parents still felt like arbitrary titles. I was fighting against despair to claim the name “Mother”, trying to imagine the joy of seeing a little face in the rear-view mirror, of holding Epiphany in my arms. I kept trying to talk about it, as though words would make it real. It didn’t hit Caleb until we sat in that theater, holding hands, watching the Baker struggle his way into fatherhood. He was going to go through that struggle, to welcome a child into the world and become a good storyteller. We walked out of the theater glowing.

A little over a week later, I sobbed in Caleb’s arms, our shattered hopes holding us together. The words fell away from us. I tried to tell him what was happening in  my soul, the fracturing death of so many dreams. I didn’t have the words.

“I wish…” I said, choking

The lyrics filled my head. “More than anything… / More than life… / More than jewels…

“I know,” Caleb whispered.

As I brushed my teeth the next morning, trying to hold onto sanity, I thought about Into the Woods and, for the first time, understood the second act. It’s about the transition into adulthood, I realized. In the first act, the characters learn things that shape their view of how the world works. But in act two, all the familiar paths are gone. The woods are new and strange and the rules are all wrong. They literally kill the Narrator, throwing him to a giant. I thought about the first time I saw the show and felt completely unsettled as a normal plot disappeared in a howling mob. I understand that fear in real life now.

Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood. So what do you do after? How do you go on?

Last month, I auditioned for a community theatre production of Into the Woods. Our first rehearsal is on Sunday. I’ll be playing Cinderella. There are a lot of good things about this opportunity. It’s a great cast. It’s a hobby to fill my often empty evenings. It’s a chance to act and sing, both of which I’ve really missed. But it’s also an opportunity to safely step back into the woods, to re-trace my steps, to try to understand everything we’ve lost. And maybe discover what we’ve gained. Stories change in the telling. Why shouldn’t we, too?