There’s an old chestnut about marriage: Man is incomplete until he finds a wife. Then he is finished. It’s an eye-roller for sure, but it nicely expresses the premise of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical, Company, playing this month at Reno’s Goodluck Macbeth Theatre Company.
More than a string of clichés about the miseries of marriage, Sondheim’s story captures marriage’s nuances: how you can find it joyful, companionable, passionate and lonely—how you can be what he calls “Sorry/Grateful” to be married.
The story takes place in New York and centers on Bobby (Chad Sweet), whose 35th birthday party brings all his friends together as the show opens. Bobby is a contentedly commitment-phobic bachelor. And now that he’s 35, his married friends are more anxious than ever to see him married. But why would he, when their lives all seem sort of lousy?
First there’s Harry (Ian Sorensen) and Sarah (Amanda McHenry), who invite Bobby over for dinner, and then suck him into their addiction tug-of-war. He’s an on-the-wagon alcoholic who desperately wants a drink, and Sarah’s anxious to see Bobby devour the brownies she’s trying not to binge eat. Then there’s Peter (Adam Semas) and Susan (Anna Golbov), a couple whose happiness seems to reach new romantic heights as they gush about their impending divorce. Meanwhile, David (Greg Klino) thinks he’s too hip for his square wife, Jenny (Amy Gianos).Paul (Brad Fitch) and Amy (Alexa Bernal) have lived together for years, but on their wedding day, Amy panics and threatens to bail out. Finally, there’s Joanne (Cami Thompson), a cynical drunk married to her third husband, Larry (Scott House), despite the fact that she seems to loathe the whole institution.
They all love Bobby—need him, really, to make themselves feel superior, or to remind themselves of the good old singleton days. They need to live through him vicariously, even as they continue to fix him up with girls to feel as if they’re doing him a favor.
And he seems to have an unnatural attachment to always being their third, their company. The problem is, as he grows increasingly disenchanted with the women he’s been seeing, the less appealing his bachelor life is to him, and the more his friends’ bizarre relationships seem enviable, revealing his own loneliness.
It’s what makes Company an accessible musical, because who among us hasn’t found ourselves on one side or the other of this scenario? The story may be 44 years old, but there’s nothing at all dated about the tug of war between singles and marrieds, that sense that the grass is always greener, no matter which side of the fence you’re on.
The cast for this show is really impeccable, and their voices strong across the board, though most notably strong are Thompson, Golbov and Fitch. Cami Thompson is an absolute knock-out as acerbic, bawdy Joanne, stealing the show when she belts out “Ladies Who Lunch.” Bernal flawlessly delivers “(Not) Getting Married,” managing the frenetic patter of a panicked bride without a single flub. Sorenson and McHenry have played a couple on the GLM stage before, and their chemistry really sells them as a bickering married couple.
Of course, the show doesn’t work without a strong actor to play Bobby, and Chad Sweet does a really fine job. His Bobby is funny, charming and still vulnerable.
In Company, marriage seems to be a lot like New York. It’s full of crazy people. It can be thrilling and alluring, but also filthy and exhausting. Yet, it can’t be that terrible, can it? Not when there’s still so much traffic.