REVIEW: Company (Griffin Theatre Company)

One’s Company…



Griffin Theatre presents
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by
George Furth
Directed by
Jonathan Berry
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: An Evening with David Sedaris (Steppenwolf)

An evening well spent


Steppenwolf Theatre presents
An Evening With David Sedaris
at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
through June 13th  | 
more info
tickets: currently sold out, but call 312-335-1650 for updates

I have read a couple of David Sedaris books over the years and I wasn’t sure what to expect of an evening with the author himself. The excitement in the lobby of the Steppenwolf Theatre was muted and yet palpable. This was an NPR kind of crowd and that was cool with me. Still, as a person who has found myself laughing davidsedaris150x200uncontrollably on the “L’ while reading “Naked”, I wondered how Mr. Sedaris would pull off such a feat as being hysterically funny in person.

He entered the stage without a lot of fanfare carrying a binder and what turned out to be a thrift store painting of Parisian ragamuffins. Sedaris got right down to business reading from his new book titled “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary” (with illustrations by Ian Falconer) due in fall 2010. He called them his take on the fable and indeed the two that he told had a moral.

Mr. Sedaris tells the first fable from the point of view of a curious owl that asks questions of the more interesting prey. This owl is on a quest to be more than just his appetites and drive to hunt. If the prey has an interesting story, the owl releases it only to watch his parasitic (and hilariously stupid) family show up to eat the poor creatures anyway. The tales are told in a matter of fact style that is both absurd and surreal. I have yet to shake the image of the owl’s passive aggressive mother arriving as he is about to snack on an unfortunate rabbit.

He shared another fable of a bully rabbit based on an incident with airport security that was also dark and visceral. I don’t know of many people who can make decomposition and carrion quite so funny. He shared that the fables would also be released in audio format and that the incomparable Elaine Stritch would read the bully rabbit story.

Good storytellers reveal the world more than tell the listener or reader something new. There are a multitude of facts on this planet but Sedaris crafts the story behind them and puts a kaleidoscope spin on even scientific facts. As part of the owl fable, there is something revealed about leeches and hippos that could have been a gross out moment. I took away a new attitude about leeches and a new respect for gerbils.

Sedaris finished the evening with excerpts from his diary that revealed more of how his process works and then opened the floor for questions. I will admit to anxiety over the Q&A part of the evening. There is always some yahoo who wants to have the deepest question to prove that they “get” the subject matter and it usually opens the gates of pandering pseudo-intellectual hell. Thank the Universe that was not the case this evening. There were good and respectful questions, and Mr. Sedaris was most accommodating. He spoke of what he is currently reading and who his inspiration was for live performance (Whoopi Goldberg). He also bought a lovely parting gift in the aforementioned Parisian ragamuffins painting. It was such an endearing moment when he asked if anyone collected thrift shop paintings and then gave it to the one person who admitted such a hobby. He also brings books and other knick-knacks to give away on occasion. It is a lovely to see beyond the surface of the absurdities of life. I recalled our velvet rendition of “Lady and the Tramp” in my childhood living room and wondered what happened to it.

Mr. Sedaris travels quite a bit for his work and has some delightful tales of time spent on planes and in airports. I would say that you should take care with your attire should he be around. Above all do not wear ethnically challenging hair or colloquialisms on your tee shirt. You will find yourself in a story and deservedly mocked.

An Evening with David Sedaris is playing at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre through June 13th 2010. Try your best to score a ticket through or call 312-335-1650. The show that I saw was sold out and there were hopeful people willing to wait on standby. It is worth the ticket and I look forward to the book both written and in audio form. Due to David Sedaris, a trip to the zoo is forever changed and I will be checking out the hippopotamus in a whole new way.

Rating: ★★★

SNS: Elaine Stritch sings The Little Things You Do Together

Sunday Night Sondheim: “The Little Things You Do Together

In the recording studio with Stephen Sondheim, recording the cast album for “Company”.  In the recording you’ll see a much younger Sondheim.  One question for Sondheim fans, who is the guy that gives instructions before the recording begins? Is this the book writer of Company?

Elaine Stritch sings "The Little Things You Do Together" from the original production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company in 1970.


A few YouTube comments of note:

1. i love how elaine just commands the room and listens to the other actors as well.

2. Elaine is just being Elaine. She always has to be the center of attention, even now she still doubts her own talents, I would guess. Only proves no one ever gets to be the person they always wanted to be, even when everyone says they’re the best.

       2a. bold statement, do you know Elaine personally i wonder?

       2b. Well said.

3. I don’t think I would be that upset if 70’s styles came back in fashion.

4. Is that Barbara Barrie in the sunglasses?? She’s great!

5. If you look closely you will see Beth Howland singing who played Vera on Alice


Sunday Night Sondheim – “Ladies Who Lunch” – Elaine Stritch

“The Ladies Who Lunch” as sung by Elaine Stritch.