Monday, Sept. 14, 2009

Off The Wall's Company

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Stephen Sondheim’s Company is a quaint, little emotional drama drawn from an exploration of contemporary romance in the big city. Off The Wall Theatre opens its ’09-’10 season with a production of the musical that opened this past week.

Ben George plays single guy Robert, who is slowly advancing into the life of long-term adult bachelor. The precision of George’s charisma really shine in the center of the production here. He’s a nice guy who just can’t seem to settle down and he’s plagues by a large group of generous friends. Everyone seems to want Robert to be happy, but he’s not sure what it is that will make him happy.


The show opens with Robert casually coming home in silence . . . a strikingly casual moment that is soon lost in the flurry of overly congenial people. Director Dale Gutzman uses the limited stage space at the Off The Wall Theatre to maximum effect when the show needs to express the overwhelming flurry of social activity in Robert’s life.

Eventually the show settles down and we find Robert hanging out with  his friends Sarah (Sharon Rise) and Larry (Robert Hirschi.) The physically aggressive end of the interaction that follows isn’t tackled all that effectively, but the important thing here is that there is a dramatic moment that is compellingly executed between Rise, Hirschi and George. This is the fisrt of several dramatic, non-musical scenes that work remarkably well here in the intimate confines of the Off The Wall Theatre.

The music itself is pretty good in places. Without a cohesive scene-to-scene plot, the songs can afford to be less linear than one might expect out of a standard musical. It’s all thematic. The classic hits from the musical (Marry Me A Little and Ladies Who Lunch) make it to the stage pretty solidly. In particular, Marilyn White puts in one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen her perform with the big finale of The Ladies Who Lunch. On the whole, I’m not personally all that imprssed with what Sondheim wrote here, but that may have to do with really loving one of the songs Sondheim dropped from the show. Right before the end of the first Act, Robert is talking to Amy (a pleasantly indecisive Heather Reynolds.) At the end of the dialogue, she’s off to talk with the fiancée she just decided to marry again. And then Ben George as Robert launches into a competent, heartfelt performance of Marry Me A Little . . . which is all fine and good, but the overall theme of the song, which is one of indecisiveness about marriage—wanting to go in without giving up too much, is a bit boring and obvious. Though it may not have been at this point where Sondheim was originally planning to put Multitudes of Amys, I think it would’ve been far better here than Marry Me A Little. (Actually, the lyrics put it a little earlier in their dialogue.) Multitudes of Amys expresses so much about the nature of love and affection in a seas  of people with such whimsically poetic idiosyncrasy. I only first heard of it while doing research for the preview column and it’s become one of my favorite Sondheim songs. It would’ve been better here. That’s all I’m saying . . .

Aspects of Multitudes of Amys fit into a song sung by Robert’s girlfriend Marta (played exquisitely by Liz Mistele) Mistele’s performance of Another Hundred People is a passionate expression of wonder at the immensity of possibilities in a major urban city. Mistele’s performance makes this one of the better songs in the production. Her performance extends splendidly into the nonmusical end of things in a very interesting bit of small talk between her and Robert on a date. There are a number of other really interesting non-musical dramatic moments in the play. Possibly the most interesting one involved a really thoughtful and sensitive realization of a very subtle and nuanced conversation over a joint between Robert, David (Lawrence J. Lukasavage) and his wife Jenny (Lisa Golda.) Golda, Lukasavage and George have a impressively insightful look into the nature of human communication. It’s captivating . . . and makes me wish George Furth (who wrote the book for the musical) would’ve left Company as a series of one-acts. The drama here is really, really interesting in places. In any case, while not all of the music is terribly good, Off The Wall does a pretty good job with Company—a production that in fleeting moments that are some of the best work I’ve ever seen at the theatre.

  
Off The Wall’s production of Company runs through September 20th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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