Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Having some Company

Colleague Jeff and I went to see the vaunted production of "Company" over at Playhouse in the Park this evening. We agreed, as did the elderly lady next to me, that it was not the most engaging of plays, although the staging was very impressive. It's sort of a proto-Bridget Jones story, with a male Singleton surrounded by Smug Marrieds. The Smug Marrieds spend most of the show sniping at each other, which became tedious to me almost immediately. The dialogue is "Everybody Loves Raymond" style, delivered with the annoying flourishes of theater: "It was THREE blocks, dahLING!" OK! Shut up! I don't care! By the end of Act I, Jeff and I were both holding up our programs to the light, trying to angle them so we could see how much longer until intermission. I went straight to the bar and downed a dry martini. This made Act II more enjoyable.

Part of the problem, we both agreed, is that the entire premise feels laughably dated to us. Who cares if a 35-year-old is uninterested in marriage? Why would this necessarily upset his three girlfriends? Who has people over for terrace parties anymore? The song "Ladies Who Lunch" is particularly anachronistic; I don't know of anyone our age who "lunches," and certainly none of us wear hats, so Sondheim's little jokey line about nobody wearing hats anymore just drew blanks from us. Maybe as a period piece this would be more effective, although I cherished the chic black-and-white costumes, particularly Marta's shredded fishnet stockings.

The staging was hugely impressive, anyway. Having the actors play the instruments is such a gamble, and they pulled it off seamlessly. I laughed out loud when one actor left his keyboard and another picked up his riff without a pause. We both enjoyed a party scene early in Act II, when the full cast marched around singing and playing. One actress calmly wheeled an upright bass around a crowded stage into place, kicking its stand into position with a high-heeled shoe before starting to play. She didn't miss a beat. Their instruments really were extensions of their bodies. They could've been extensions of their characters, too, if Sondheim had written them any. I know Stephen Sondheim is quite accomplished and beloved, and I love "Send In the Clowns" too, but his stories are nasty vicious little things, full of bitter jokes and leaving you nowhere. Tonight's performers deserved better material.

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