REVIEW: Company (Griffin Theatre Company)

One’s Company…

 

Company

   
Griffin Theatre presents
   
Company
   
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by
George Furth
Directed by
Jonathan Berry
at
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through November 14  |  tickets: $22-$32  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Five more or less married couples and their seemingly confirmed bachelor friend–the contrast between their ambivalence and his fecklessness fuels this early, episodic Stephen Sondheim musical, a show with enough brains to hit the heart. So, if Bobby remains unyoked at 35, it could be because his “institutionalized” friends have set cautionary examples with their drugging, boozing, infidelities and threats of divorce. And Bobby’s lusty life of interchangeable dates is its own dead-end excuse for a mid-life crisis.

Stephen Sondheim and bookwriter George Furth cleverly chronicle the complications and contradictions in bittersweet, ambiguous showpieces like “Sorry-Grateful,” “Marry Me a Little,” “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” as well as the vaudevillian warmth in “Side By Side By Side” and the title song. (Here “company” means both the opposite of loneliness and what misery loves best.)

Those songs, ably directed by Jonathan Berry, revolve like a carousel around eligible bachelor Bobby, a very un-lonely New Yorker who just turned 35 and receives contagious concern from the compulsively, reflexively or instinctively married couples who comprise his industrious friends. (The slick plot, with its sitcom setups and twisting revelations, recalls bookwriter Furth’s own The Supporting Cast and its gay counterpart, Paul Rudnick‘s Jeffrey.) Bobby’s tensile friends include control-freak Sarah and her co-dependent husband Harry; Southern-belle Susan and her estranged and closeted Peter; amiable Jenny and considerate David (who would love to be single "for an hour"); frantic Amy, a shiksa who almost doesn’t marry her adoring Paul; and sophisticates Larry and Joanne. Joanne’s amorous assault will help to shock Bobby from his fear of commitment. It also fuels the ending, where he determines to be himself, enough to realize one’s company and two’s a crowd.

For them and for the three women in and out of Bobby’s life (sweet stewardess April, ebullient Marta, "the soul of New York," and knowing Kathy, the girl who got away), Sondheim delivers delicious numbers, ranging from Marta’s New York tribute, "Another 100 People," to the sardonic anthem "Crazy Person."

Despite the drawback of an orchestra that’s so loud that the singers are overmiked, music director Allison Rae Kane maintains the Sondheim supremacy with this playful, bouncy and fluid tribute to New York in all its normal nuttiness. (Jessica Kuehnau’s functional set is just abstract enough to suggest New York’s teasing formlessness.)

Company is a hungry show, eager to assert its sometimes borrowed wisdom: Griffin’s rough-and-tumble urgency fits the bill, and here, despite a too-slow and deliberate second act, the ensemble acting is everything a chorus should be.

An instantly likable anti-hero and a solid survivor, Benjamin Sprunger’s Robert (who is almost exactly the right age for the character) conveys both the curiously unattached “Bobby baby, Bobby bubbie” who fascinates his friends and the haunted loner who aches for connection in the enthralling “Being Alive.” (Sprunger brings so much hunger to the number that you can imagine, from a slightly different perspective Bobby verging on tragedy instead of tragicomedy.) Amid so much Gotham craziness he’s a grounded, solid soul who stands out by hanging back. Standouts among Robert’s 13-member supporting “family” include Allison Cain whose bibulous ferocity in “The Ladies Who Lunch” makes you reconsider Prohibition and recalls Elaine Stritch but with repression as much as rage. Samantha Dubina’s winsome stewardess (so moving in “Barcelona”) says a lot with the look of longing. Dana Tretta incarnates the free spirit of 70s New York as a date too independent even for freedom-loving Bobby. Darci Nalepa runs Amy’s tour-de-force “Getting Married Today” along a fine knife edge between hope and farce.

Company may seem dated in its view of the Big Apple as a couples’ mecca where anonymity and intimacy constantly vie for dominance. (References to the “generation gap” and phones that lack even an answering machine don’t help this updated production.) But the interpersonal dynamics so cleverly lampooned and confirmed by these songs remain in full force: The show keeps the crowds it earned.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
  

more “Company” videos after the fold

          
        

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REVIEW: 2,000 Feet Away (Steep Theatre)

Sex offender drama criticizes but struggles to connect

 

2000-feet-away-poster

 
Steep Theatre presents
 
2,000 Feet Away
 
Written by Anthony Weigh
Directed by
Jimmy McDermott
at
Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map)
through June 26th | tickets: $20-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Anthony Weigh’s 2,000 Feet Away isn’t your ordinary pedophile play; this time, the criminals are the victims. In the town of Eldon, Iowa, fear and paranoia drive citizens to terrorizing local sex offenders, and state legislation requires the criminals to stay 2,000 feet away from schools, parks, libraries, and bus stops. Sex offenders are forced out of their homes and into repulsive motels barely good enough for arson.  The play’s only erotic encounter between an adult and child shows the youth as more of an instigator 2000-feet-02than a victim, and an 18 year old boy is exiled for having sex with his girlfriend. Weigh has bold ideas regarding sexual crime in America, but never quite develops a solid plot and characters for his ideas to manifest through.

Weigh’s Eldon doesn’t feel like a real town but rather a collection of convenient personalities to assign philosophies to. His witch-hunting Iowans bare little resemblance to our libertarian-leaning western neighbors, and don’t have much personality beyond their one-dimensional stances on the issue of sexual crime. Why Eldon is packed to the gills with pedophiles is never explained, and makes the location seem like a cheap way to connect the play to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” an image that appears throughout the production.

There is an obvious sentimental attachment Weigh has to Wood’s painting, but its prevalence in the play is never made quite clear. Does the stern-faced patriarch represent of the citizens of Eldon, protecting their children from predators as he protects his gothic barn? Perhaps the pair are the ghosts of an America that doesn’t exist anymore, where hard work and obedience have been replaced by sexual deviance and social injustice? Its purpose is unclear, and does little to advance the plot.

/Users/hdleemiller/Pictures/Capture One Library/Output/.IMG_6917.tif After a creepy opening scene between adult A.G. (Benjamin Sprunger) and preteen Boy (Alex Turner), 2,000 Feet Away falls into a pattern of scenes where the citizens of Eldon express their personal feelings about sex crimes to their Deputy (Brendan Melanson), scenes that suffer by telling us the character’s emotions rather than showing them through meaningful interactions. The pace during these opening scenes drags due to a lack of forward motion, but Melanson’s portrayal of a lovable loser corrupted by the world around him is a highlight of the production. When Deputy encounters Girl, the SVU tween (deceptively mature Grace Goble), the play gathers steam and the plot finally gets rolling. As Deputy looks for a home for the displaced A.G., their relationship becomes the emotional center of the play, and the actors share good chemistry on stage.

Director Jimmy McDermott does a fine job with the material at hand, but the flaws of the script hurt the momentum too severely to fully recover. The ensemble works to build relationships where Weigh’s script struggles to connect, but the pace of the piece ultimately proves its undoing.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
 
 

 

 

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REVIEW: 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival

The voices of the future are here.

 

YPF24 (2010)

January 7-31, 2010

Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00 p.m.

Sundays @ 3:00 p.m.

special first preview performance on Thursday, January 7 @ 8:00 p.m.

Click here to purchase tickets

(All seats just $15 each)

 

review by Oliver Sava

The three works that comprise Pegasus Players‘ 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival offer unique views on youth, mortality, and abuse, and were all written by high school students. Aided by professional writing mentors, the playwrights are given the opportunity to see their ideas take shape under the guidance of some of the city’s top directing, acting, and design talent. The results are positive across the board, but like any group of adolescents, maturity varies from script to script.

 


nowhere-people

The Nowhere People

Gabriella Bonamici‘s heartbreaking drama about widower Ernie (Benjamin Sprunger) and his mission to communicate with his dead wife, Ann, is the highlight of the evening, expertly directed by Kimberly Senior, who has steadily created a career around her ability to capture grief on stage (see: Timeline Theatre’s All My Sons and Next Theatre’s The Overwhelming). Luckily, Ernie’s neighbor Danny (Alice Wedoff) has a ghost of her own, and she’s been building a ghost-machine to open a portal to the spirit world and send it back. Bonamici’s script moves with fluidity and ease, filled with humor while never losing the gravity of the loss of a loved one on the human spirit. The script also handles exposition beautifully, gradually revealing essential information about the characters as the dramatic tension builds, and each discovery adds a new layer to the conflict. As landlord Sid (Michael Gonring) becomes increasingly concerned with Danny’s mental health and the ghost-machine’s uncanny ability to knock out the building’s power, Ernie has to decide between his own life and the answers he so desperately seeks. Sprunger and Wedoff have great chemistry, bonding through their joint experiences of loss and their common goal of reaching into the afterlife, and both actors are fully committed to the slightly far-fetched circumstances. The actors shine because of the script, a subtle yet powerful examination of the ghosts that haunt us all, and the extraordinary measures people go to escape the past.

 

Rating: ★★★½


 

 Roller Coaster

roller-coastTrapped atop a roller coaster, Effie (Rinska Carrasco) and Milo (Gonring) discover the unexpected connections they share while learning a bit about themselves. Gixiang Lee‘s hilarious script balances high school dramedy with a hefty load of cultural references that actually serve to flesh out the characters rather than simply give the piece an air of relevance. Effie enthusiastically singing Salt N’ Pepa’s "Push It" as they are elevated to the top of the coaster while Milo clings for dear life, terrified at what awaits below. Total opposites, but you know what they say about opposites. Lee’s script isn’t realistic, the Effie and Milo’s relationship is almost completely based on coincidence, but it is her fearlessness with the comedy that makes the piece so memorable. Milo’s list of fears, ranging from heights to large rabbits to "the small but ever present threat of death from falling out of bed," is brilliant, and the T.P. Employee (Sprunger) that comes to their non-rescue is played with a ridiculousness that borders on caricature but works in the context of the play. The humor might not be the most sophisticated, but Lee creates sympathetic characters that are easy to root for, making Roller Coaster an excellent comedic piece with real heart.

 

Rating: ★★★


deliver-me

deliver me from evil

 

In therapy after being hospitalized for attempted suicide, Magdelina (Wedoff) reveals a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse inflicted by her mother (Gilmary Doyle) in Kat Blackburn‘s deliver me from evil.The strain of past trauma begins to weigh on Magdelina’s relationship with girlfriend Soda (Caren Blackmore), and she must confront her demons in order to salvage the only loving relationship she has ever known. Petra (Carrasco), Edward (Gonring), and Jenny (Mildred Marie Langford) represent the childish, masculine, and feminine aspects of Magdelina’s tortured psyche, giving form to the poetry in her journal. These sequences, combinations of interpretive movement with symbolic imagery, have varying degrees of success. One particularly chilling entry features the four teens cutting together, the act taking on a communal nature reminiscent of ritual sacrifice, but at times the poetic sections feel a little too much like they were ripped from a teenager’s journal – angstful , angry, and lacking in maturity. The actor’s do a fine job with the material, but deliver feels the most like a play written by a high school student of the three.

Rating: ★★½