Entertainment » Theatre


by TK Hadman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Aug 3, 2016

Actor's Express opens their 29th season with the Sondheim classic, "Company," a musical comedy exploring themes of love, relationships, and the cultural expectations built up around them.

Revolving around Robert's (Lowrey Brown) 35th birthday, the concept musical gives us territory to explore through a series of vignettes. Robert's friends, five sets of couples, throw him a surprise party. He spends time with each couple, and each of three girlfriends, all the while spouting advice, demands, criticisms, and well wishes.

"Company" can be read as a character study on Robert, despite his relative passivity. He comes to us as a content bachelor with obvious flaws. "You Could Drive A Person Crazy," sung in the style of The Andrews Sisters by April (Kelsey Chapin Martin), Marta (Jimmica Collins), and Kathy (Emily Stembridge), details his poor treatment of the women. In Robert's first solo, "Someone is Waiting," he romanticizes features of his married women friends into his ideal partner.

At the end of Act 1, Robert remains ill equipped for a successful marriage but more open to the idea. His number "Marry Me a Little" expresses his desire for an arrangement without the requisite emotional work. Topped off with "Being Alive," Robert leaves us headed in a new direction as he prepares himself to accept the whole of another person.

More central to the message of "Company" is its commentary on committed partnerships. Robert's time with friends, often farcical, offers insight to us as much as him. Sarah (Rhyn Saver) and Harry's (Craig Waldrip) literal sparring embodies the typical give and take over the course of a long-term relationship.

Amy's (Jessica Miesel) frenzied panic over her suitability for marriage shows how the institution itself affects change in already stable relationships. Paul's (Dan Ford) measured response to Amy shows the work beyond love that marriage often needs.

Joanne (Libby Whittemore), on her third marriage, offers the most biting critiques of marriage and the soundest advice. She espouses "The Little Things You Do Together" that make a relationship meaningful while in "The Ladies Who Lunch" decrying women whose lives are devoid of meaning after marriage, and forgives herself for falling into that trap. Whittemore's performance has a smoldering intensity with a gut-punch ending that lends perspective.

Actor's Express's production of "Company" for 2016 seeks to move beyond marriage as a necessary goal for achieving adulthood. Today, it isn't uncommon to be actually ready to settle down for marriage at 35, compared to the crisis it would have been at the play's premiere in 1970, or even 20 to 30 years ago. Just last year, marriage became less of a struggle for queer people and therefore, perhaps less of an issue overall.

Thus, marriage and its surrounding struggles become a stand-in for larger emotional themes, such as, the kind of life one pursues, mindfulness, and grappling with mortality. Director Freddie Ashley's decision to cast more of Robert's friends as a little older than him, rather than his peers, reflects this change in tone.

The slightly older casting speaks better to a modern audience as well. As written, Robert's friends have a demanding, insistent nature; they're eager to share with Robert how to do something, what he needs, how to live. They espouse statements such as, "they say a man should be married" without realizing that their participation in a social institution makes them de facto enforcers of its agenda. Even while coming from a place of love, the seeming compulsion to comment on Robert's life reads almost like an inter-generational clash that Ashley handles nicely.

The star-studded cast is talented and energetic, all delivering stirring performances with remarkable depth. Each character and couple rises perfectly to the occasion as their moments weave in and out of the narrative landscape. With a knockout company, Actor's Express skillfully infuses new life and meaning into the Broadway classic "Company."

"Company" runs through Sept. 11 at Actor's Express, 887 W. Marietta St. Suite J-107 Atlanta, GA 30318. For tickets or information, call 404-607-SHOW (7469) or visit actors-express.com.

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