Note: Entire Contents Copyright 2016 by Michele Markarian
“What song is the biggest clunker in ‘Company’”? I asked my husband on the drive over to see the Lyric Stage’s opening production. His answer was the same as mine – none! There isn’t a single clunker in “Company’, which, in addition to boasting top-notch Sondheim songs, has a knowing, sophisticated book to match. And as someone who claims not to have fallen in love until his sixties, Sondheim is surprisingly adept at representing both sides of the married/single conundrum.
The play opens with the 35th birthday of Robert, a single man who mostly hangs out in the company of five married couples. They are on hand to celebrate with him, as they always do. The relationships are symbiotic: the couples offer safety, Robert offers vicarious thrills. As a single man who’s unwilling to commit, Robert has an idealized vision of what it means to find the right woman, even as he continues to date the wrong ones. By the end of the play, Robert’s friends wait in vain with a cake on yet another one of Robert’s birthdays; Robert has cut loose to maybe or maybe not grow up.
Part of the potential problem with doing a show like “Company” is that it’s performed so often, can a theater company bring novel, original interpretations to the table? Between Spiro Veloudos’s crisp direction, a multi-talented cast, and remarkable set and lighting, yes. John Ambrosino’s Robert is an interesting combination of world weary and newly hatched. As an actor, he has the quality of active listening which lends gigantic credibility to his performance. When he sings the show-stopping finale, “Being Alive”, you get the sense that Robert doesn’t really know what’s going to happen to him, but he’s open to whatever is. It’s very real. I rooted for him and worried about him and would have googled his character to see how he ended up if I didn’t know it was a play.
Erica Spyres brings a stubborn determination to Amy that’s very funny and a little intimidating - “Getting Married Today”, usually played frantically, almost manically, was all business, and it was marvelous. And Jenny (Teresa Winner Blume) singing from the church altar, turns a tight operatic turn into fresh, hilarious commentary with her truly dazzling voice. Adrianne Hick brings just the right amount of stupidity and depth to April. Will McGarrahan is quietly effective as Larry, the man who caught a tiger by the tail when he married Joanne (Leigh Barrett). Ms. Barrett has the hardest song of the night, “Ladies Who Lunch”, which one normally associates with the braying cynicism of Elaine Stritch. Honestly, I was nervous for her, but shouldn’t have been – she sang it with all the hurt and vulnerability of her character, and it was superb, almost like hearing it for the first time. The rest of the cast is excellent, but I would be remiss not to mention Maria LaRossa’s (Kathy) sensuous “Tick Tock” dance and Davron S. Monroe’s (Harry) mellifluous singing voice.
Following Act One, there is a 25 minute intermission where facilitated breakout sessions of groups of 20 audience members are conducted in and around the theater. While the intent to foster a dialogue on what we had just seen is probably a great idea in theory, the lack of any true diversity in my group, (largely educated progressives, two older African Americans led by an African grad student who taught in the Boston Public School system) prevented any really informed or spirited discussions from taking place.
Janie Howland’s set is multi-layered and intimate and complements the piece well, along with Franklin Meissner Jr’s atmospheric lighting design. Whether you’ve never seen “Company” or you’ve seen it a million times, go see this – you’ll see something that you’ve never seen before.