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Courtesy of Sheryl D. Sinkow

October 31, 2016

Charismatic Commitment: Company at Ithaca College

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Company (written by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth; director, Catherine Weidner; musical director, Christopher Zemliauskas) as a play itself doesn’t have a particularly dramatic plot the way a Greek tragedy or a Shakespearian comedy might — set up as a series of vignettes, the play focuses on exploring the topic of marriage through the eyes of Robert (Liam Snead), or “Bob/Bobby” as his friends affectionately call him, a 35-year-old man who just can’t seem to get married.

Despite that Robert is well-liked, attractive and well-established, Robert’s friends are disheartened that is he still isn’t married by the time of his 35th birthday; on the other hand, he mostly works hard to deny that he is completely terrified of committing. In looking at the very different personalities and marriages of Robert’s friends, Company seeks to explore how marriage changes and affects people. In the eyes of ever-unmarried Robert, the premise leads to a fun look at the dynamics of a group which Robert is always third-wheeling his married friends.

While the vignette set-up of the play itself might make some find the story stale or less dynamic, Ithaca College Theatre Arts’ Company does an excellent job in creating a colorful and engaging story through an incredibly distinctive cast. Though Robert is undoubtedly the main lead, his best friends, and his three girlfriends (Mariah Lyttle as Marta, Danielle Newmark as Kathy, Maya Musial as April) are plentiful in number — five couples, all of whom are fantastically well-played. Filling out the ensemble of Robert’s friends are Emily Fenton as Sarah, Michael Doliner as Harry, Jack Higgins as Peter, Kristina Kastrinelis as Susan, Julia Bain as Jenny, Trevor Eichhorn as David, Celena Morgan as Amy, Jake Nusbaum as Paul, Alexandra Nicopoulos as Joanna and Luke Davidson as Larry. Despite their number, each of Robert’s friends have distinct personalities that give a sort of humanness to them; their various interactions and insights also help to flesh out Robert’s character as a whole. Even beyond the main themes of marriage, the actors give their characters flavor in their discussions of their age (the in-between generation) and the real anxieties and fears they carry. The diverse range of characters helps to create a sense of dynamism throughout the play, from the clashing personalities to the fullness of the stage when inundated with people. The near-perfect harmony of the songs add even more flair to the show; rather, the audience can’t help but burst into applause after each song.

Another particularly well-done aspect of the show was the beautiful stage set (creative team: Don Tindall, Sound Designer; Eric Mitchell, Lighting Designer; Jennifer Hiyama, Scenic Designer; Tucker Davis, Choreographer; Margauz Greenhouse, Stage Manager) — placed in the bustle of New York City, Company demands a kind of energy and modernity. The set overall is incredibly impressive: tall, looming facades and the distinctive New York subway entrance stand firmly. But when the show starts, the lighting suddenly changes: backlights illuminate the facades, revealing that the buildings are actually made of cloth, which allows the clear shadows of actors behind them to create motion and a layer of artistry. That, with the separate and moving sets of the various apartments and homes of Robert and his friends, the creative team did an incredible job creating a truly impressive and aesthetically-cohesive set.

The different elements — the diverse cast, the wonderful music and dancing and the lovely set — come together to give a very real sense of progression and movement in the play, despite the original play’s format of vignettes. By the end of the show, Robert, while not too obviously changed, has grown; his outlook on relationships has been subtly but radically altered. The play ends with the same scene it opened on: Robert’s 35th birthday. Only this time, he isn’t so reliant on his friends for that comfortable and familiar sense of company.

Ithaca College Theatre Arts’ Company is window into the lives of a group of friends hitting their 30s, focusing on the topic of marriage — what does it mean to dedicate yourself to someone else through marriage? Does it make anyone any less individualistic or free? And at this point in life, was it worth it? While the story centers around Robert, we have a play that is human and fleshed-out by the vibrant acting of all of the cast members and a set that is equally dynamic. In an interplay of movement and singing, expressive faces and distinct personalities, Company is refreshing and fun, and a story that people can see the reality and humanness in.

Company will run five more times from November 2 to November 5. 

Catherine Hwang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at shwang@cornellsun.com. 

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