Curtain Up: Solid cast makes ‘Company’ a great production

“Company,” now being presented by TheatreZone, is Stephen Sondheim’s breakout play, where he found his voice as a composer and lyricist. When first produced, in the cynical 70’s, it spoke to the zeitgeist and was a hit among the cognoscenti.

The play revolves around Bobby, a single man surrounded by married friends, about to celebrate his 45th birthday. (This is an interesting twist — Bobby was originally 35. The change here may be due to the age of the cast, but makes sense in 2012, when a single 35-year-old is no longer unusual.) Bobby is the center, but mostly the play is about marriage. The sentiment “who’d want to be married” alternates with the admonition “you need to be married.” Marriage is a trap and a (limited) salvation.

There is at times an element that goes beyond cynicism to despair. The number that Elaine Stritch has made her trademark, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” is simply witty and bitchy when Stritch performs it now. In context, the song conveys hopelessness — if the “ladies who lunch” and the “girls who play house” are equally ridiculous, what kind of woman can have a life not devoid of meaning? The moment of Bobby’s revelation, embodied in the achingly beautiful “Being Alive,” comes too late to offset all the previous nastiness and promises no happy endings.

This may be one of those plays that are better in retrospect than at first viewing. The initial impression was of a clinical coldness. The initial reaction was fatigue: I don’t generally need musical theater to remind me that life is futile and full of compromises — I see enough of that in real life. The minor action is interrupted by musical commentary (in case one misses the point?). The characters, particularly the married couples, are stick figures, there to make a point or provide an example.

A day later I began to think better. There is real meaning here. Which of us is not, in the words of one of the fine songs, “sorry/grateful, regretful/happy” — if not about our marriage, about our other major life decisions? Bobby’s may never achieve the intimacy which he finally realizes he craves, but the desire is profoundly human.

TheatreZone continues its streak with a wonderfully solid cast. Larry Alexander carries the weight as Bobby, appearing in every scene, and he convinces us of Bobby’s somewhat empty charm. He is also in fine voice. Laura Needles and Renata Eastlick perform a couple of the trademark rapid-fire Sondheim patter songs with great expertise and humor. Karen Molnar gives the best performance we have seen from this actress as Joanne, the “Ladies Who Lunch” lady. She sounds a little Stritch-y at times, but does not do an imitation — there are only a couple of moments of homage that also function (purposely?) as a kind of in joke.

The simple set is effective, enhanced by projections that are more than clever; they convey mood and comment on the characters.

TheatreZone is sure-footed this year and we look forward to more. “Company” is worth seeing for anyone interested in theater and willing to be challenged.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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