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BWW Review: Marriage is Good COMPANY Policy

To be or not to be ... married. That is the question facing Robert throughout COMPANY, the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical that concludes Writers Theatre's current season at its spiffy new venue in Glencoe.

Robert's dilemma is exacerbated by all his married friends' well-meaning nudges to get him to join the fray, for better or worse. He's not literally deciding to take the plunge; he's merely questioning where his life is headed, and does he want to face it alone? It's a question for the ages - ask any former bride or groom.

Sondheim's marvelously clever songs hold up in this timeless concept musical: "The Little Things You Do Together" illustrates the intimacies of sharing a life; "Sorry-Grateful" shows the push-pull of wanting to be partnered and yet craving freedom; "Another Hundred People" spotlights the exciting yet disconnected nature of living free in a big city, with all its possibilities; "Poor Baby" laments the supposed sadness of the single friend; and "Being Alive," suggests that without a partner in crime, one is not truly living.

And even though this 1970 show has been updated -- the immediate presence of a cellphone alerts us to its present-day setting -- a couple of missed opportunities to make it thoroughly modern gives it a decidedly pre-digital-age vibe. The easiest and most logical way to make a show about marriage more timely would be to change one of the couples to a same-sex version of the original. Not so here; there are five heterosexual couples, each with a different, though not unique, set of issues.

Thom Miller artfully plays Robert/Bobby, whose carefree ambivalence is at once enthralling and of concern to his friends. He's good-looking, seemingly successful, likable, uncomplicated. But he's (gasp!) single. And on the occasion of his 35th birthday, Robert begins his existential soul-searching.

His visits with each couple, plus interactions with the women he's dating, start to put everything in perspective for him.

Harry (James Earl Jones II) and Sarah (Alexis J. Rogers) lovingly/sarcastically keep each other on the straight and narrow so they don't succumb to their vices (he with liquor, she with sweets).

Peter (Gabriel Ruiz) and Susan (Tiffany Scott) are getting a divorce but seem as happy as ever and plan to stay living together.

David (PatRick Martin) and Jenny (Blair Robertson) try to let loose by smoking weed with Bobby, yet they are the most traditional of his friends ("A man should be married," David declares).

Bobby visits Paul (Bernard Balbot) and Amy (Allison Hendrix) on their wedding day, with Amy in a panic trying to convince herself she shouldn't do it. Hendrix's rendition of the rapid-fire, word-filled "Getting Married Today" is a triumph.

Joanne (Lia Mortensen) and Larry (Patrick Sarb) take Bobby to a nightclub, where Larry dances like a fool and Joanne gets hammered and propositions Bobby. Mortensen's portrayal is arguably the most interesting, culminating in the show-stopping "Ladies Who Lunch."

The girlfriends - "dumb" flight attendant April (Jess Godwin); girl-next-door Kathy (Chelsea Morgan); and street-smart, fun-loving Marta (Christine Mild) - have their own agendas and prove that timing is everything when it comes to love. Godwin, Morgan and Mild's Andrews Sisters-like "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" lacked power but was delightful nonetheless.

Director William Brown and music director Tom Vendafreddo have put together a swell cast, who in the individual vignettes perform well, but for all the thought-provoking lines and lyrics, there are few moments of emotional connection. But maybe that's the point, in the end, for Bobby.

Early on, Sarah says to him: "Do you see how you talk, in questions?" It's a commentary on his life as an observer rather than a participant. His simultaneous fear of and desire for commitment is not resolved by play's end, but it's clear his eyes have been opened.

COMPANY runs through July 31 at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. Tickets are $35-$80. Call 847-242-6000; writersthreatre.org.



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From This Author Teresa Budasi

Teresa Budasi is a writer/editor/critic who has spent her career covering arts and entertainment for newspapers in Chicago and its suburbs, most recently the Chicago (read more...)