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PlayMakers opens 'Into the Woods' to rotate with 'Midsummer'

Lisa Brescia plays the Witch in PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of "Into The Woods."

Lisa Brescia plays the Witch in PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of "Into The Woods."

From the detail and extravagance of the costumes to the intricate staging of multiple sets, the company is presenting its rotating repertory of “Into the Woods” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” around one central design element — the woods.

“The woods participate in both plays in similar ways, although they’re being used to pursue different themes,” said Joseph Haj, producing artistic director for PlayMakers.

“There’s loss of innocence, there’s a maturity, there’s a sexual awakening, and all this gets explored in the concept of the woods.”

Haj is directing “Into the Woods” and co-directed the 2013 rotating repertory around the theme of water.

He had the idea to pair this year’s shows together and said it was about putting the plays in conversation.

“Into the Woods,” which opens Sunday and runs through Dec. 6, is a contemporary musical involving characters from the Grimm fairy tales, while “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 7, is a Shakespearean comedy.

Though the shows are stylistically different, scenic designer Marion Williams said both of the shows have elements that tie them together.

“Both shows are in literal woods, but in some cases it feels more symbolic,” she said. “We actually have trees on stage for both, but the way those trees are dealt with, treated and perceived, changes.”

Williams designed the set for both shows and said wood had a big role in its construction.

“It’s all meant to be coming out of the wood and forest,” she said. “It’s a wooden floor, there are the trees of course, the props — the dominant material certainly is wood.”

The “Midsummer Night’s Dream” set was designed to be a more basic forest because of the style of Shakespeare, while the set for “Into the Woods” is more lavish, with a grand library and decorations.

Lisa Brescia, who plays the Witch in “Into the Woods,” said the costume design has been equally elaborate.

“I’m extremely impressed with the drapers and the designers,” she said.

“The quality of the craftsmanship that goes into making these costumes is as high as any I’ve seen on Broadway.”

Brescia has starred in Broadway shows, such as “Mamma Mia!” and “Wicked,” and said costuming can be freakishly transforming. She said her initial costume for the Witch is made almost entirely of vegetables.

“The dress itself is fabric, made up of additions of detail that are vegetation-based,” she said.

“There are cabbage leaves and ivy-like green foliage, there are roots that come out of the costume — it’s as if she’s become one with nature.”

Brescia said she has multiple costume changes, wearing everything from a dress that looks like it’s made of water to a two-piece witch’s mask designed for mobility. Though she has seen the show before, Brescia said the changes for this production tell the story in a unique way.

“The witch’s progression of costumes is rooted in the garden she manages,” said Bill Brewer, the costume designer for the show.

“We see these people with our eyes before we hear them sing, or speak or anything else, and we need to understand who they are visually before they can take us anywhere.”

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Brewer said the iconography of the show would be rooted in the 1950s as a way of tying the show into America’s “happily ever after.”

“I don’t want a Disney version of this,” he said.

“I wanted these to be real people with real life struggles.”

Haj said the shows’ designs are powerful because both plays are somewhat representative of the unknown world. He said connecting through stories is how people find their places in life.

“We all want a story,” he said.

“We want a story to understand who we are, our place in the world — that’s the power of narrative.”