Standout cast makes mixed ‘Company’

Alternating Rothko paintings were among the only set pieces in the minimally designed production of 'Company,' directed by Jean-Bernard Bucky, professor of theater. The play featured a cast of married couples and a lone bachelor played by Evan Maltby '11, right.
Alternating Rothko paintings were among the only set pieces in the minimally designed production of ’Company,’ directed by Jean-Bernard Bucky, professor of theater. The play featured a cast of married couples and a lone bachelor played by Evan Maltby ’11, right.

The time is ticking away. For me and my fellow classmates in the Class of 2010, graduation and a transition into the post-college world is only seven months away. The world beyond our college is one without meal plans, common rooms, reasons to be drunk by 9 a.m. and police that have no jail to take us to. It is also a world where marriage becomes a very real scenario.

If these prospects were not scary enough, Company, the musical by Stephen Sondheim ’50, was performed at the ’62 Center’s MainStage last weekend and directed by Jean-Bernard Bucky, professor of theater, features a protagonist whose parallel experiences in the marital realm turn into a nightmare. The musical, set in New York City, tells the story of Robert, commonly referred to as Bobby (Evan Maltby ’11), and his desire to find a woman he might want to marry. The friends who surround Bobby are all in their late 20s and 30s, wealthy and all married. If this were not already enough to compound his complex, Bobby’s friends constantly judge him on his bachelorhood. His relationship with these people, and subsequently himself, becomes defined by his inability to find a suitable mate.

The musical follows the progression of Bobby’s relationship with himself, his friends and the institution of marriage. Each new scene Bobby shares with a romantic pair of friends or a new prospective mate is consciously placed to show the evolution of Bobby’s mindset. But while this series of short vignettes explores very different characters, the shortage of varied stage direction made it difficult to separate the scenes. The director’s habit of recycling blocking forced the audience to depend almost entirely on the script for signs of plot progression. Where the production achieved its greatest success, then, was in the ability of the actors to diverge from the director’s assembly line.

As a character, Bobby is fun to be around, despite harboring a depressing dependence on his social interactions. Maltby succeeded in matching this role’s demands. He had all of the lovability of a Jonas brother but still managed to convey a hinted, lingering depression. One of his character’s most telling moments came in the second act when he brought a date, April (Lizzie Fox ’12), back to his apartment. At the end of April’s nonsensical praise of his apartment’s furnishings, Bobby admits that, after spending all of his time socializing with his married friends, he never has any time to himself. While his character is rarely physically alone, Maltby portrayed a Bobby that was both emotionally distant and personally hollow.

His performance was not the only standout. Margot Bernstein ’10 plays a neurotic person better than anyone around. If her performance as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd spring 2008 was not telling enough, her solo in the song “Getting Married Today” was a crowd favorite for its high comic energy. In the role of Amy, Bernstein sang about her fear of marriage and in doing so decided to call off her own wedding. Her attempt to seek refuge by crawling between the stage blocks was one of this production’s lasting images.

Other notable performers included Sara Harris ’11 in a comical and convincing interpretation of her character Jenny’s experience smoking marijuana; Fox in her deadpan rendition of Bobby’s particularly dense and subsequently self-deprecating hook-up April; and Thomas Calvo ’12 and Caitlin Eley ’10 as a couple with a perplexing insistence on getting a divorce but eventual inability to leave each other when they finally do.

Being only the second theater  department production held on the MainStage since the ’62 Center’s opening in 2005, I was expecting a set design that would use all of the advanced mechanical systems that went into the building’s approximately $50 million price tag. The set I encountered, however, was surprisingly simplistic yet beautiful. The two-story-high Rothko paintings and Tetris-like stage blocks, as well as the lights that supported them, all worked as a seamless aesthetic. The flexibility of the set, however, while a gift in some respects, imposed few restrictions to rein in the director’s loose oversight.

The position of the pit orchestra on stage complemented the minimal set by filling some of the MainStage’s vast surface. While the director arranged the orchestra as a backdrop, the small group, conducted by Eric Kang ’09, did anything but stay in the background; their sound was impeccable.

These effects culminated in the final number, “Being Alive,” in which Bobby skips a surprise birthday party that his friends have thrown for him. As they huddle upstage, determining whether or not they should give up on him and leave, Bobby, a lone figure before the audience, blows out the stage lights to break his connection with his longtime friends. But just as I was ready to throw myself from the second floor balcony over my grief for Bobby, his loneliness and his inability to find a spouse (a pursuit on which he wagered all of his happiness), Bobby perplexingly finished with a smile.

While it took me some time to come to grips with this final motion, I eventually realized that his was a smile of renewal. Bobby finally understood that it wasn’t the idea of marriage that made him unhappy; it was the pressures he felt from himself and his friends. In order to be happy, he had to be willing to throw out everything he’d once valued and start over. What he had lost long ago, but had now begun to rediscover, was that he was the only one who could control his happiness – a gradual self-discovery that here was well-supported by the nuanced performances of its standout cast, despite a sometimes stale dependence on repetitive direction.