Into the Woods cast
I’d never seen Into The Woods live, so I took a chance and went up to Torrey Pines to see Steven Sondheim’s fractured fairytale. The production was impressive but more importantly, the emotional content of the show was present.
The bit I’d like to talk about here is one lyric uttered by The Witch near the end of the show. She, Red Ridinghood, Jack, The Baker, and Cinderella are all arguing about The Giant and who is to blame. The Witch is the only one talking about the problem instead of finding blame — until they try to blame her.
She says in reply, “You’re so nice. You’re not good. You’re not bad. You’re just nice. I’m not good. I’m not nice. I’m just right.”
It’s easy to let this text slide by as it comes at the end of a patter-quintet. However, The Witch’s proclamation shows that she is the only character who is self-actuated and she has put her finger on one of the predominant dangers of our culture.
“Nice” has become one of the cardinal virtues. It could even be said that niceness has exceeded the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, prudence, and courage. How many of us understand “temperance” and “prudence”? For the record, temperance relates to self-control and prudence is the ability to find the identify the correct action in a given situation.
There is a saying that goes, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” That is the truth, and its the root of almost all of our problems. Don’t believe me? Let’s use an obvious example.
If the majority of Germans had incorporated the virtues of justice, temperance, prudence, and courage into their thinking, they would have seen through the charisma of Hitler’s delivery to the rotten core beneath. Nice people followed Hitler because they had no moral compass. I do hate to use the Hitler example, but it’s the easiest one.
This is the dynamic The Witch is facing except she’s on the other side. These nice people won’t follow her because she’s a witch. The other characters aren’t listening to her words, they are only seeing a witch. They are caught up in the medium, not in the truth of the message. The characters in Into the Woods could have benefited from having incorporated the cardinal virtues into their identities, but they have not, and therefore they consistently make choices that are short-sighted and result in negative consequences.
Sondheim cleverly has The Witch progress from the shadow to the actualized. She is the character who has seen her dark side and come to terms with it. This is an idea which Nietzsche put forth. His claim is that a harmless person is not moral. They are harmless. A person who is dangerous and aggressive but chooses to temper her aggression is a moral person. The Witch is dangerous, while the other characters are mostly harmless, yet they consider themselves to have the moral high ground. Ultimately Jack, Cinderella, The Baker, and Red Riding Hood shed their harmlessness and conspire to kill The Giant.
Into The Woods at Torrey Pines High School closed March 2.