Prologue: Into the Woods
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical Into the Woods attempts to be about a lot of things. Love – between mothers and daughters, princes and maidens, men and themselves. Loss – trying to rationalize the end of human life. Abandonment – a father who left his family as a young man confronts his son about to do the same, in a lovely piece of writing called No More.
But like most of Sondheim’s post-Hal Prince career, there is a general messiness to the piece. (Prince, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerry Robbins are perhaps the only geniuses of American musical theatre structure.) Into the Woods is seemingly about everything and nothing at the same time. And just like their other major collaboration, Sunday in the Park With George – the show’s two acts fail to meld, so much so that when Woods is performed by amateur groups the second act is often excluded altogether.
But whilst Woods is an often sloppy re-telling of classic fairy tales, Sondheim and Lapine create enduring characters by adhering to a basic tenet of Dramatic Writing 101: the folks on stage make big life choices at big life moments. The lyrical refrain of “into the woods” reflects their acceptance of the challenges before them and the risks they’re willing to take. Their “moments in the woods” are life-defining decisions to be embraced, not avoided.
Into the Woods, at its core, is about what we do when “the moment” presents itself and these characters are defined by what they do, in their moments, in the woods.
Sunday at Soldier Field is a moment for this Chicago Bears organization.
Bill Belichick, the greatest head coach in NFL history and the Big Bad Wolf for our purposes, is coming to town. Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history and our Prince Charming, is with him. They are the NFL’s gold standard; a tribute to consistency and greatness in a league constructed and governed to deter both. And they are a villain to be identified and subsequently vanquished.
They are a moment.
The last time they set foot in the hallowed grounds on the lakefront, Mr. Noah Brier and I were there. A game was played but we didn’t really see it. Even sitting in the 7th row, even dressed like snow plow operators in Fargo, North Dakota, even wearing $8 T.J. Maxx ski goggles, it was barely possible to see Tom Brady dominate a terrific Bears defense in the blizzard that descended upon Chicago.
(At one point in the half above Deion Branch caught a bomb from Brady over the head of Charles Tillman. Tillman never saw the football thrown. Not because he was out of position but because he physically couldn’t see the football.)
This isn’t “just another game” or “just another opponent” for these young Bears, despite what the coaching staff and players will tell the press. This is a young contender facing Tyson at the Garden. This is the understudy stepping into Tevye on Saturday night before a sold out audience at the Lyceum Theatre. This is a big moment. And the Bears better embrace that. Because…
Finale: Bears Fans Will Listen
…there are only three possible results Sunday:
- Bears Win.
- Beating the Patriots would firmly entrench them as front runners to win the NFC North and alter the expectations for 2018.
- Bears Lose Close One.
- Folks will tell you there are no moral victories but there are positive losses. Ask the 2007 Giants, who went all-in to beat an undefeated Patriots team on the final Sunday of the season even though New York had “nothing to gain”. They lost. But every player on that team will tell you they left the field knowing they could beat the Pats and took that confidence into the Super Bowl.
- Bears are Beaten Soundly.
- They’re not ready to play with the game’s best. There’s no harm in that. It wasn’t expected of them in 2018. But it will at least allow the fan base to take a measured approach to the rest of this campaign.
This game’s result won’t tell us who the Bears are going to be at season’s end. It won’t tell us if Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are the right combination to finally get this team another world championship. But it will tell us – more than anything they’ve done previously this season – who they are right now and who they need to become moving forward.
This is their moment in the woods.