February 20, 2003

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter?

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When you speak to people you realize that one’s opinion about Sondheim seems to be like flipping a coin: you either like him or you don’t. But his impact has already been noted on the musical theatre. Company, the show now running at the Schwartz Center’s Flexi’ Theatre, has both its merits and failings. The play, a revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical comedy, presents disjointed memories of Bobby (Laurence Drozd), who is considering marriage. Starting at a moment of suicidal crisis, which is cleverly made light of by humor, the play fluctuates between different episodic encounters Bobby has with his friends. Bobby is a bachelor, a promiscuous New Yorker who finds himself at a crossroad in his life brought on by his 35th birthday. As a lonely bachelor Bobby has not been able to create a stable life for himself, and the question of whether or not to get married is his point of crisis. After the first scene, the rest of the play becomes an education for the charming but indecisive Bobby, who seeks education from his friends.

To unwind the dialogue, the play moves between acting and singing and many now famous songs that paint a picture of married life. Thus the cast must both sing and act. As the chorus, the cast does a good job. And there are a few standout numbers, including one famous trio song and dance by Marta (Peggy Powers ’03), Kathy (Dara Messing ’03), and April (Gretchen Poulos ’03), singing the blues of having Bobby as their lover. But as much as the play succeeds during its choruses it sometimes goes flat when individual actors are asked to take the lead. And it becomes obvious that some of the actors do not rely on their musical talents often. The lead, Laurence Drozd, knows his own voice well and does a fine job staying close to the spoken word when he goes into one of Sondheim’s numbers. The effect of this is to make Bobby more believable as a person.

The production runs into trouble in its own interpretations of the script. Essential to the play is the interpretation of Bobby as a character. While Bobby reacts to the different characters, the staging is too vague and muffled to allow us to see how Bobby himself either does or does not progress as a character. Over the years the play has been interpreted in many ways, but the actual fragmentation of the scenes that form the play is what is communicated most explicitly in Company. In Pomerantz’s version, Bobby is a little too endearing and for the most part is paper thin.

From the outset the audience is witness to the humor inherent in Bobby’s life, and never before has one name, Bobby, been used so well to communicate petulance and psychological antagonism. Bobby becomes “Bobby, Bobby, / Bobby baby, Bobby bubi, / Bobby