i’ve always been a sucker for a fairytale.

i’ll admit it: as wishy-washy as i may seem about real-life “falling in love” and the prince who sweeps the maiden away, i crave the unreality of a fairytale with all the ardor of a little girl pinning her hopes on the Second Star to the Right and praying for the Magical to happen. if i could procure a position as a Disney princess, i’d move to that fantasy world in a heartbeat.

no even lie. tell me a pretty story, and i’m (maybe) yours forever. the more dragons and unicorns and mermaids, the more i’ll love you.

combine this fairytale affinity with my intense appreciation for all things Shakespeare, especially modern remakes of his beloved plays that add their own unique spins and interpretations, and you can only imagine my delight at winning Monday’s online lottery for Shakespeare in the Park. the play? Into the Woods, Shakespeare’s very own fairytale, starring Amy Adams & Donna Murphy (who was outstanding beyond all reasonable belief as the Witch).

photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

since i went into this summer hoping beyond all hope that i’d close it with a Shakespeare in the Park experience tucked beneath my skin, i was suuuuper excited. i expected it to be good; after all, this is a highlight of NYC theater during the summer, and set right in the heart of Central Park. what i didn’t expect was to be entirely rivted to every movement by every actor in the musical, laughing (it was hilarious!) and ultimately crying (surprisingly, at the inclusion of touching family dynamics and the realization that we need to hold close to us those whom we never wish to lose). i will venture to say this is one of the most unique, engaging theater performances i’ve seen in a long, long time. everything about it was just right.

for starters, the multi-tiered treehouse of a set was absolutely incredible. it was impossible to become disengaged for even a moment as the actors treated it like a playground, constantly drawing our eyes to all corners of the set and enacting a truly dimensional performance. i had to fight an intense desire to climb up and crawl into that hollow “tower” at the very top, where Rapunzel lounged and let down her hair.

talk about a perfect little nook!

treehouse set of Into the Woods in Central Park

i love how this play weaves together the stories of so many fairytale characters. Cinderella & Rapunzel fall in love with fickle brother princes who later leave them for Snow White & Sleeping Beauty; Jack (as in, the Beanstalk boy) is befriended by the spunky, fiesty, bold-mouthed Little Red Riding Hood (who stole the show for me, clad in an indie get-up that included knee socks and a candy-red bike helmet and admittedly almost enjoying her seduction by the Big Bad Wolf); and all the while the staple of any fairytale, the wonderful and fearsome Wicked Witch, cavorts around with her hysteria and her awesome terribleness that you can’t help adoring.

i was extremely impressed with the entire cast, as well as the song-writing (some of the lyrics were HILARIOUS). and at the ending, when the father and son had their “moment” and portrayed the indelibility of family ties, i couldn’t hold back the tears.

i kept thinking of Hamlet’s assertion that the purpose of theater is “to hold the mirror up to nature” and show humanity exactly what it looks like at its very essence, exposing the rawness of life and emotion and evoking feeling within us that might otherwise lay dormant. i felt like this play did that for me, as i sat with tears in my eyes and thought about a world where beauty and ugliness coexist; where tears mingle with peals of laughter and nothing ever turns out exactly the way we expected it would — but in the end, that’s just how it was meant to be.

and i left grateful for my little life and this small pocket of space and time, where actors on a stage reminded me the importance of holding close those who i’m blessed to love the most.