For the next few days, a part-amusing, part-depressing parade of dysfunctional relationships, unintentional social sabotage, and the politics of keeping a marriage afloat will be on display — and not just because it’s Parents’ Weekend.
For those whose families won’t be making the trip, the Yale Musical Theater Company’s production of Steven Sondheim’s 1970 musical “Company” presents a humorous approximation of the satisfying highs and abysmal lows of marriage and coupledom.
The plot revolves around five married couples, a 35-year-old bachelor and his three revolving girlfriends. Robert (Dan Hammond ’05) is afforded glimpses into the daily lives of each married couple, and we soon see that there’s often more “for worse” than “for better.” Throughout the play, Robert’s friends’ suggestions that he get married are counteracted by his own instinctive fear of commitment and harrowing empirical evidence regarding the pratfalls of domestic coupledom.
The interplay of Robert’s conflicting thoughts on marriage forms the basis for the conflict within the musical. Robert oscillates constantly on the issue. At times he feels so strongly pro-marriage that he proposes to his already-engaged platonic friend Amy (Felicia Ricci ’08). Other times, our lonely bachelor-hero fancies himself so much a sower of wild oats that he explicitly describes to his current bedmate an episode in which another woman got him inordinately aroused. He paused the rabid carnal frenzy, he notes wistfully to the bedmate, April (Allegra Long ’08), only to run out and buy copious amounts of baby oil.
The technical aspects of “Company” were the largest and most serious problems of the production. Despite the use of personal microphones, there are several incidents where the actors cannot be heard over the on-stage orchestra. This glitch is a pity, given the clever wordplay contained in Sondheim’s Tony-winning script and the impressive vocal talents of the performers. Similarly, the lighting for the entire production was relatively low. In several episodes, a character isolates herself from the group in order to deliver a witty interjection and steps, not into limelight, but into marginal shadows.
The production calls for very light dancing by most of the cast (with the exception of short, comical tap-dance interludes by some characters and a beautiful interpretive dance by Long), but for most dance sequences, the company lacked cohesion. Granted, the student performers shouldn’t be expected to show the flexibility of a corps de ballet dancer in their leg lifts or the synchronization of Rockettes in their kick lines, but the lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the actors during the sequences distracted from an otherwise well-coordinated production. The episodes called for a few cutesy arm bends and demi-kicks while singing some of the ensemble numbers, but invariably, a few cast members kept their jazz hands limp and lackadaisical and remained stationary while their counterparts bounced.
“Company” is acted by a cast of mostly freshmen, but the stories contained within touch on subjects that are presumably not common dilemmas in young adults’ lives. The script contains its fair share of comical snide exchanges that are to be expected in most any pair-up of passive-aggressive, resentful or otherwise unhappy human beings. But “Company” also tells the story of latent homosexuality in a heterosexual marriage and provides an account of a jaded wife (Joanne, played by Sarah Minkus ’08) who attempts to seduce Robert sheerly out of boredom with her current situation.
In each vignette, the young actors portray the feelings and emotional conflicts involved in each situation expertly, successfully convincing the audience that their characters are experiencing personal crises more likely to happen to someone twice their age. When the sultry Minkus belts out “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a comical mock-tribute to wealthy women who fill their days with hat fittings and high-powered social champagne brunches, she imparts all the bitterness of a dissatisfied middle-aged woman to the tableau. She both steals the scene and adeptly carves out a palpable climax to the show.
By the end of the play, our protagonist has experienced the range of married life — secondhand, at least — and must decide whether to finally get off the Ferris wheel of singledom and at last give steady relationships a try. Though Sondheim doesn’t force a false deus ex machina, the final scene seems satisfying and optimistic, lending the play a lightheartedness. Robert may not have successfully shaken his independent ways, but he hasn’t hardened into a lovelorn curmudgeon. As the rest of the tales of compromise and resolution among the married couples indicate, where there’s hope, there’s happiness.