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

          
        

Continue reading

REVIEW: I Hate Hamlet (Big Noise Theatre)

Barrymore’s ghost walks through ‘I Hate Hamlet’

 hamlet34

Big Noise Theatre Company presents:

I Hate Hamlet

By Paul Rudnick
Directed by
Craig Gustafson
at
Prairie Lakes Theater, Des Plaines
Through Feb. 7 (ticket info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Fluffy as cotton candy, Paul Rudnick‘s 1991 screwball comedy, I Hate Hamlet, numbers among those navel-gazing theatrical-themed plays that theater people always find enchanting. In this case, they’re right: Full of witty one-liners and ridiculous absurdities, this is a very silly, but very funny play.

hamlet14 Inspired when Rudnick lived in a New York apartment that had been home to famed actor John Barrymore (1882–1942), the comedy, currently in production by Big Noise Theatre in Des Plaines, follows up-and-coming TV-star Andrew Rally (the boyishly handsome Mark Mocarski), who moves to New York from L.A. when his hit medical series is cancelled. His elderly agent (Aimee Kennedy) has convinced him to give the stage a try, and although he remains ambivalent about both his desire and his ability to play the role, he’s been cast as Hamlet at Shakespeare in the Park.

Meanwhile, his real-estate broker, Felicia (Terre Virgilio), who sidelines as a medium, sells him the late Barrymore’s New York digs, with — you guessed it — the ghost of the stage and screen legend — dressed for his most famous role — in residence. Although the living Barrymore deserted the Shakespearean stage for Hollywood, his shade (Rob Nowak) is determined to turn the diffident Andrew into an accomplished Hamlet.

That’s not the absurd part.

Andrew’s ditzy, deeply romantic girlfriend, Deirdre (Julie Bayer), is thrilled that he’s playing the sweet Danish prince, giving him hope that she’ll end their long celibacy. A 29-year-old virgin, Deirdre’s been putting off the infatuated and importunate Andrew’s propositions and proposals for years, waiting to feel that the time and the man are perfect. On the other hand, Andrew’s pal Gary (Aaron G. Stash), a fast-talking, quintessential hyphenated Hollywood writer-director-producer, is trying to lure the actor back to L.A. with a high-paying contract for the pilot of a lame new sitcom.

If you can believe in a chastely monogamous TV actor who turns down lucrative roles, you might as well believe in ghosts.

hamlet04 hamlet17
hamlet21 hamlet02

As the ghost, Nowak brings the swashbuckling Barrymore to booming life. By far the strongest actor in this uneven production, Nowak all but carries the show, overcoming an awful wig, legs that cry out for padded tights and the faltering delivery of castmates. Bayer, suitably flaky as Deirdre, and Stash, expansive and frenetic as the big-talking Gary, also turn in respectable performances.

Director Craig Gustafson has not been able to coax fast-paced dialog from his cast, and poor timing often puts a drag on what ought to be glib exchanges, making some of Andrew’s self-criticisms ring painfully true. Still, with Nowak’s Barrymore and colorful touches such as Teresa Kerrigan‘s flamboyant costuming of Felicia, this good-hearted production captures the overall silliness of the script.

Rating: ★★

 

Continue reading