Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's Company
A talented bunch
by Patrick Dunn
From the January, 2016 issue
Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical Company lacks the wild genre content of his better-known works like Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, but the lyricist and composer's dark wit is no less provocative in this more mundane tale. Company, which the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will stage January 7-10 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, follows Robert, a thirty-five-year-old chronically single New Yorker with a horde of married friends. In a series of loosely connected vignettes, Robert spends time with his various partnered acquaintances, most of whom constantly implore him to settle down while also suffocating him with their own desire to keep a single friend around and horrifying him with their own less-than-sterling married lives.
Even in the mid-December run-through I attended, Civic's production displayed confident, darkly comic energy. The production's set is minimal, using simple risers to create "apartments" for Robert and his married pals, so the emphasis is on interpersonal fireworks rather than visual spectacle. The cast rises to that challenge with considerable verve, most importantly Robby Griswold as Robert. Tall and emotive, Griswold draws one's eye throughout the show. Although Robert is Company's main character, he spends much of the show watching his zany married friends run wild. A lot of nonverbal business is required of Griswold, and his reactions are compelling and often amusing. Excellent verbally as well, Griswold develops a nice comic patter with his supporting cast and showcases one of the finest voices in the production on several emotional songs.
The supporting cast is a talented bunch, bringing the snappy dialogue of George Furth's book to colorful life. Marci Rosenberg is a particular standout as the high-strung Amy, set to be married to the doting Paula (Amanda Bynum) and less than thrilled about it. Rosenberg delivers a furious, breathtaking staccato performance in the musical number "Getting Married Today," committing wholeheartedly to her memorably bipolar character. Madison Merlanti is terrific as the somewhat dippy Susan, delivering lines about the divorced bliss she's found living
with her ex-husband with exquisite comic nonchalance. As the bickery Sarah and Harry, Jodi-Renee Giron and Paul Clark do some unforgettable physical work in a choreographed karate demonstration that turns into a lengthy, sexualized wrestling match. The cast's vocal abilities vary, but Trisha Fountain as Jenny and Kate Papachristou as Marta give particularly outstanding performances. The ensemble as a whole does some lovely harmony work on the titular opening number.
Director Rachel Francisco engages in a bit of gender-blind casting here, which works just fine in the case of Amy and Paula (Paul in the original play). But while Chris Joseph gives a fine performance in a brief appearance as Robert's former lover Kevin (Kathy in the original), Robert's apparent romantic interest in both men and women doesn't jibe with his later reaction to a male friend's questioning about homosexual experiences and subsequent come-on.
Nonetheless, Francisco draws out the humanity in a group of often over-the-top characters. There's plenty of comedy in Company, but also some surprisingly hard reflections on the all-consuming desire for companionship--inside and out of the much-vaunted institution of marriage.
[Originally published in January, 2016.]
On January 2, 2016, Aaron C. Wade wrote:
I appreciate your review, however I'm not entirely sure you understand how bisexuality works. Just because you're open to more options doesn't mean you're open to all options. I think you should take the time to learn more about people who find attraction in both genders.
On January 4, 2016, Patrick Dunn wrote:
Thanks for your comment. I believe you're suggesting that I implied Robert should be romantically interested in all males just because he had one male ex-lover (which would of course be ludicrous). In the context of the actual scene as written, Robert expresses not only disinterest in the second male friend's come-on, but shock and general disinterest in homosexual experiences of any kind.
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