In today’s Wall Street Journal I review an important Chicago-area revival of Company. Here’s an excerpt.
* * *
Sooner or later, every play becomes a history play, a time capsule whose carefully preserved contents show us something of what life was like at a particular moment in the past. Some plays, however, tell us far more than others about such moments. One of them is “Company,” the 1970 musical in which Stephen Sondheim and George Furth described what it was like to be a member of the urban bourgeoisie at the moment when America was becoming a country where marriage for life is not a normal destiny but an increasingly remote possibility. Twenty years ago, I thought that “Company” was a period piece. Today it seems prophetic, a hardheaded comedy about the way we live and love now—and its hardheadedness helps to explain why it doesn’t get done as often as it should.
It figures, then, that first-class revivals of “Company” should be thin on the ground. I’ve reviewed only two, on Broadway in 2006 and at Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Playhouse last summer. Now there’s a third: William Brown, one of Chicago’s top directors, has given us a small-scale, contemporary-flavored “Company” (everyone uses cellphones) that is the most dramatically persuasive version I’ve seen to date. It’s the first musical to be mounted on Writers Theatre’s brand-new 250-seat main stage, and it takes full advantage of that handsome space. Indeed, the real “star” of the show is Todd Rosenthal, the set designer. Best known in New York for “August: Osage County,” he has concocted a multi-tiered performing space that shows you how the complex narrative structure of “Company” works. Everything about this production is wholly satisfying, but it’s Mr. Rosenthal’s set that makes the pieces fit together so tightly….
Mr. Brown and Brock Clawson, the choreographer, use this space flexibly but logically, the result being that you know at all times where you are and what you’re seeing. This lets you concentrate on the show itself, and on the acting of the 14-person cast. Everyone keeps it simple—the performances are all rendered in bright primary colors—and Mr. Sondheim’s score is both beautifully sung and played with cool clarity by the seven-piece pit band. Yet there’s no lack of passion…
* * *
Read the whole thing here.
Two excerpts from Writers Theatre’s production of Company: