nytheatre.com review by Zachary Fithian
September 17, 2008
Normal, Anywhere doesn't seem like such a bad place. The people are neat and tidy, the houses are neat and tidy—hell, the whole community is neat and tidy. But, wouldn't you just know it? Not everything is as it seems! There are secrets! And lies! And gay people! The thing about these abNormalities, though, is that they don't get to live in town. No, the dirtiest and darkest are relegated to the neighboring wood. It's not entirely clear what exactly goes on in there, but like any self-respecting, squeaky-clean, cookie-cutter town, Normal must be rid of anything unseemly. And, so, Wood begins on the eve of Demolition Day with that nasty old clump of trees about to come down so that goodness and glory can reign throughout the land forever and ever. Amen.
We are introduced to Herman—a young gay man who struggles just to be himself in Normal—and his mother Judy, the woman behind Demolition Day. Judy's motives are far from sinister; she merely wants to mow down nature in order to create a community center for acceptance and tolerance and name it after her son so he feels better about living in Normal. There's nothing wrong with that! Jason Michael Snow and the ever impressive Cady Huffman form a quirky mother/son combination, especially in a scene involving a cross-stitching Herman made of a man's... well...of a certain body part. It's the ages-old story of a mother's good intentions going awry.
Herman's day proceeds normally (how else?) up until that point in the evening where he decides to meet his potential new flame in the wood. He is followed by his friends and, well, suffice it to say that just about everyone in town ends up in the wood at some point during the night. And there unfolds a night filled with such mysticism and wonder that you suddenly can't help but notice the show's classical roots. It is clearly evocative of A Midsummer Night's Dream, what with the love and the mistaken identity and the sexually charged night's romp in the woods, but it doesn't stop there. The chorus of Fairies (take that in both senses of the word) is very Greek in nature, as is a certain police officer's certain costume piece designed to comically enhance a certain part of his body. Couple the phallus with the endless "wood" puns and you've got yourself an Aristophanes comedy.
The music, by Julianne Wick Davis, is sufficient, though I didn't leave the theatre humming it. Stronger are Dan Collins's book and lyrics, especially if you like dirty jokes (which, I am proud to admit, I do). One standout moment in the show is "The Fag Hag Drag," a song of lament for unrequited love. Diana (played adorably by Kate Wetherhead) is the flag-toting, math-competition-cheering best friend of Herman's who wishes they could be more-than-just. Wetherhead's number got the biggest round of applause of the evening, and deservedly so.
In all, Wood is a funny enough take on an old story, a story that, fortunately, is strong enough to have survived its very many retellings.