BWW Reviews: Theatre Unchained Stages a Superb COMPANY
Small, professional companies produce theater on sparse budgets. Their great contribution to a city's culture includes performing plays at affordable prices while granting a variety of acting ability invaluable experience. Milwaukee's Unchained Theatre operates on a tiny budget in the heart of the city's Fifth Ward, the brainchild of James Dragolovich. The intimate setting he envisioned features approximately 75 seats to produce Stephen Sondheim's multiple Tony award winning Company (with the book writenn by George Furth) to create musical magic almost forty years later.
The cast arrives on a two level stage in the black box theater, up close and personal, so the audience immediately engages with this timeless script first produced in the 1970's. A script essentially more in tune with marriage and relationships today than when first produced. In 2013, advanced technology connects people with more emotional and physical distance betweent them, even in committed relationships, with smart phone pictures and videos the norm. Esepcailly when in a relationship's beginning stages, where individuals use less face to face time and often move forward when writing text to text, replete with abbreviations and words full of ambiguous intents or meaning.
The versatile Jacob Sudbrink multi-tasks as the Director, Music Director and lead actor, Robert, or Bobby, as his five pairs of married friends call him. The 35-year old single celebrates his birthday with these close companions and an array of three girlfriends throughout Sondheim's nonlinear vignettes on married life. Sudbrink excells as the ambivalent Robert, especially in his solos, "Someone is Waiting" and "Being Alive." Where his persona hits the appropriate angst for his desire to attain a marriage or relationship, even after contemplating what he observes when with his friends.
A petite and vivacious Grace MacDonald plays Amy, the over the top bride with her much in love fiancé, Paul, an attractive Eddie Pronly, in the wonderfully comic and frenetic number "Getting Married Today." Just before this vignette, the fiesty red haired Marta, played by Jessica Hoof, mesmerizes the audience singing "Another Hundred People," a song of New York's massive subway system where one could literally bump into that special someone.
Theatre Unchained uses primarily a bare stage, a lone black leather futon/sofa, a silver bar cart and actors dressed in gradations of black, grey and white so Sondheim's music and lyrics continually resonate with the audience. This adept cast occasionally struggles with Sondheim's complex music, while hitting a fine comic note, and the evening's effect satisfies the audience completely and utterly.
In a world almost half a century from when Company was first produced, marriage and romantic relationships have become more complicated than when the bewildered Bobby feared as he turned 35. That he, too, needs to be married. Where today the 35 still signals a defining age for women who wish to have a family, or the modern time when many marriages rise from match.com or eharmony instead of a face to face encounter to find as Robert says, "someone to love me too much."
Sondheim's observations ring clear and strong in this century where relationships require reved up risk, yet to "be alive" one relishes those personal connections rather than those reduced to facebook and internet emails. The composer believes marriage, despite the institution's imperfections, offers the antidote to contemporary loneliness and seclusion in a New York City highrise, or anywhere else in the world. So the audience can cherish their 'company' of family, friends and a life partner. Take this unique opportunity to revisit the superb Sondheim musical at Theatre Unchained's admirable, exciting and stripped down production where the cozy space sparkled with local talent.