Thursday, September 15, 2016

Lyric Stage Offers Loneliness and Togetherness with Irony

Lyric Stage Offers Loneliness and Togetherness with Irony

By Rosie Rosenzweig, Resident Scholar,

Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center

The 1970 dark comedy Company (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth), which won the 2007 Best Musical Tony award, was updated by Director Spiro Veloudos at the Lyric Stage with irony and relevance.   This production kept theatre-goers smiling with the occasional “huh?” moment to enliven the evening.

Individual relationships are presented through ironic vignettes, tinged with many annoying flaws of togetherness; this underline the tongue-in-cheek cynicism of the main character’s views of long term relationships. Robert (a.k.a.  the protagonist Bobby) feels that his friends, all in more-or-less committed relationships, adore him to excess.  The work is a brilliant song and dance set at that time in New York when the upper middle class was indulging the psychoanalysis and talking about it ad nauseum. The score, with its almost comical indulgences in muted brass phrases, caused many a guffaw in the audience.  There were shades of Cabaret and the ghost of Berthold Brecht haunting the evening, just in case the audience might even for a second take the digs at relationships seriously. It’s Bobby’s birthday party and the use of the birthday cake causes us to do a double take and question the reality of the vignettes that follow, which caricature “perfect relationships: Neighbors you annoy together/Children you destroy together/ That keep marriage intact.” The various couples have one scene to present themselves, beginning with a judo-fighting couple, and include the number “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”  The variety of relationships from his diverse and comical friends grab the audience’s attention throughout.  “Company, the recurrent song and dance that rises up at important times in the action of the drama, is presented with different moods by the ensemble, begins with an opening sappy “Happy Birthday” theme and progresses to an almost stifling quality.

What does Bobby do when he realizes that, in truth, all his committed friends are really happy.  And that none of the female partners really want to sleep with him?  That answer arrives with a startling turnabout that awakened us to the truth about the darkness of Bobby’s ironic take on commitment. Can we really take his conclusion seriously in the final number, “Being Alive?”  That will be up to those in attendance and will receive no spoilers here, other than that the themes of this questionably dated work is relevant today among Gen X kids and millennials loathe to commit to marriage and children.

Matching a New York high kicking number was the Act II ensemble show-stopper called, “Side by Side by Side/What Would We Do Without You?” It magnifies the narcissism of Bobby, a 35-year-old bachelor unable to sustain a lasting relationship, surrounded by five couples, who, through his eyes, seem to adore him.  Here, John Abrosino playing and singing Bobby, leads the ensemble with the movements and subtle flair reminiscent of a Fred Astaire; he lights up with body language that, hopefully, will spread to the rest of the play as the production continues through October. Even though he can sing, act, and dance quite professionally, all too often his upper body enacts that uptight quality, which his Puerto Rican girlfriend ridicules.

Another show stopper was the classic “Ladies Who Lunch” by Leigh Barrett, who made this her own, despite original performance by Elaine Stritch and Patti LuPone. This sardonic toast, with the biting irony of a Cabaret number about women is out of Betty Freidan’s Feminine Mystique. This has the historic undertones of the popular sonnet by e.e. cummings about “the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls” with no individuality and “comfortable minds.”  Company features, not only good drama, but some biting social commentary as well. Following this is the contrasting “Being Alive” conclusion of Bobby’s search,

The entire cast embodies what the Director Spiro Veloudos describes as “act the book and act the story” for all the other important numbers in the show.  Veloudos has directed almost 20 Sondheim musicals in the course of his tenure at Lyric Stage.

Presenting big stage choreography on a postage stamp size stage is the remarkable result of Choreographer Rachel Betone. 

Even though Company’s 1970 pre-Broadway Boston run received mixed reviews saying that this show “is for misogynists and homos,” the themes are relevant today for 21str century theatre goers.

Lyric Stage certainly lives up to its mission with this first production of the season to bring to Boston audiences “challenging and entertaining theatre.”

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