Is there a law requiring reviewers to like a play that won six Tony Awards? If so, alert the theater police.
As “Company” opened Friday at Theatre Baton Rouge, I couldn’t help think about “Weekend at Bernie’s,” a 1989 movie comedy about two guys who must make it appear that their recently deceased boss, Bernie, is actually alive to avoid being killed themselves. They manipulate Bernie’s arms and legs, take Bernie with them on a boat, anything to make it appear that Bernie has not assumed room temperature.
“Company,” directed by Jenny Ballard, has no individual role comparable to Bernie. Rather, the cast members take 2½ hours dragging along a tiresome plot, with sometimes-annoying music as the tow rope.
Bobby (played by Jason Dowies) is a 35-year-old bachelor whose married (or long-time committed) friends can’t understand why he doesn’t settle down. The reason apparent to everyone in the audience is that with couples like these serving as examples, who in their right mind would tie the knot?
Sarah (Dana Todd Lux) and Harry (Chip Davis), who respectively battle overeating and alcoholism, treat each other with endless passive aggression.
Susan (Elizabeth Tadie-Canfield) and Peter (Ronald Coats) seem happy enough, but get a divorce that, bizarrely, doesn’t result in them actually leaving each other.
Paul (Richard Williams) and Amy (Kaitlyn Stockwell) live together, but their actual wedding day turns Amy into a basket case. Joanne (Jennifer Johnson) seems as content as her cynicism will allow with her third husband, Larry (Terry Byars). David (Michael Ruffin) seems not to respect Jenny (Jennifer Gomez), who lets him walk all over her.
Bobby’s girlfriends — naïve flight attendant April (Carole Moore), small-town-girl-lost-in-the-big-city Kathy (Jamie Leonard-Brubaker) and hip New Yorker Marta (Brandy Lynn Johnson) — seem nice enough, but none entice Bobby into walking down the aisle.
Yes, this is a comedy, not a documentary. But it helps a play to have someone in the cast to root for, or at least relate to. That doesn’t happen here, except for silently cheering for Bobby to find a new set of friends.
Maybe “Company” simply doesn’t work as well today as it did in 1970, when Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for George Furth’s book, or in New York, whose upper and upper-middle class are, according to stereotype, notoriously self-absorbed. Attitudes toward marriage certainly have changed, and 35-year-old bachelors are less likely to draw pity.
Today, in a different place, so much of this play seems foreign. After half the play seems to suggest that marriage isn’t worth the bother, its attempts to reign in that thought fall fairly flat.
It also doesn’t help that the play opens with a song that repeats “Bobby” until the audience is practically begging for it to stop, then segues into a rendition of “Company” that is unintelligibly cacophonous. Not an auspicious start, especially for a cast filled with capable singers.
It gets better musically. While Dowies has had better performances, his second-act solos were quite good. Johnson has a superior voice, put on display in “Another Hundred People,” and Stockwell is hilarious both acting and singing “Getting Married Today,” which requires of her some of the most rapid-fire lyrics this side of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major General’s Song.” Her rendition even had me fantasizing that the cast would seize the opportunity, conduct a rebellion and start performing “The Pirates of Penzance.” Alas, they continued to drag Bernie — sorry, the plot — dutifully along.
There are some enjoyable non-musical moments: In addition to Stockwell’s epic scene, Lux and Davis are quite amusing when Harry decides to test Sarah’s karate skills. But there is so much here that doesn’t work.
Cast members constantly distract by appearing on stage when they serve no purpose to the story line. And, here’s a note to all future directors: If a script calls for cast members to smoke marijuana and begin laughing hysterically at things that aren’t otherwise funny, ask yourself whether the audience will be similarly high. If not, they won’t find this especially funny. Because it’s not.