“It’s my childhood, all over again!” one playgoer gushed, as the canned strains of a Blood, Sweat & Tears number came over the sound system at the Masquers Playhouse in Point Richmond, followed by other pop radio tunes circa 1970, before the curtain went up on Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company.
Of course, the musical wasn’t originally offered as nostalgia—and it plays well enough, over 35 years (the birthday of its protagonist that it opens up on) after its debut on Broadway.
But the profusion of period fashion (Diane Beaulieu-Arms’ costumes), as well as the now-quaint mores represented as the social (and breeding) habits of the Manhattanites depicted in action and song, do bring out a sepia tone in the picture posed onstage. The only thing that hasn’t changed significantly—not even in most details—is the self-referential (and reverential) character of New York.
Company is, in fact, a triumph of the eponymous company, the chorus, although as a pun. The title and its recurrence in song and dialogue refer to the company of another person, the only ostensible reason anyone in the play can come up with for marriage, as the five sets of wedded partners that comprise the chorus openly confide the limitations of the marital contract to their token single friend-in-common Robert (Kyle Johnson), and all try cloyingly to get him, too, to couple up.
The dynamics of the story revolve around trios, as Robert, the third wheel, accepts the ongoing cycle of invitations to visit his friends, whose wedded bliss fractures before his eyes: a karate demo that turns into a husband-wife melee (Kathleen Dedarian and Robyn David Taylor); a little pot party of three that has the straitlaced wife giggling profanities—and touching on a few touchy issues (Jacqueline Andersen and Michael Cassidy); an unctuous moment of complimenting the hostess, offering a proposal “if you two ever break up,” only to find out those two (Michelle Pond and Steve Yates) are getting a divorce.
And in between tableaux is Robert alone, insouciantly brooding over his lack of commitment, or squiring The Girlfriends around. One in an Op-Art dress (Amy Nielson) tells him on a bench in Central Park that she’s leaving The City to get married; another (Jennifer Stark), an elective New Yorker, valorizes her adopted town in all its diversity in “Another Hundred People”; the third, a dizzy stewardess (to use the idiom of that time), turns arch bedtime stories into a slapstick seduction pas-de-deux in Bobby’s safari-themed boudoir—a dancer (Amy Nielson) taps and sways around the bed, the couple hidden under the covers—and the morning after sings that she must be off to “Barcelona.”
As Robert, Kyle Johnson adroitly navigates the reefs and shoals of a lead part that’s paradoxically a straight man’s role, to set up a crowd for laughs—his friends and the audience. Bobby’s both attractive enough and yet a little bit bland, both charmer and sychophant. Johnson has a brash edge to his voice, yet plaintive undertone, that puts him out in front in numbers like “Marry Me a Little.”
As befits the mission of a community troupe like The Masquers (though eight of the cast are first-timers), the actors-singers weigh in as themselves, and the ensemble gains in charm from it. It’s very much a group effort, under G.A. Klein’s direction, but there are some standouts: besides Johnson, and funny Steph Peek as April the Stewardess, Tamara Plankers returns after a long hiatus to the Masquers stage as acerbic Joanne, probably the most enduring character, trashing her genial mate (Larry Schrupp) for enjoying himself publicly, and delivering “The Ladies Who Lunch” (”I’ll Drink to That”) like a sardonically staccato Ethel Merman.
Most of the fun, though, is in the war of nerves, like Bobby standing up for his long-cohabiting friends (Leah Tandberg-Warren and Peter Budinger), as the groom grows courtlier and the bride fantasizes dodging the altar. But all the couples stick together, hovering like a choir of seraphim behind all their friend’s most intimate moments, mother-henning him, as he seems eternally poised to blow out the candles on yet another cake.
Rob Bradshaw’s sets ranged from the preposterous “complementary” colors of Bobby’s bachelor pad to pleasing rosy-tinged skies; Kris Bell’s choreography kept a cast of 14 in motion to Sondheim’s score, as Pat King led Barbara Kohler, Jo Lusk, Ben Strough and fine trumpeter Jim Ware ably in the pit, as The Masquers dust off this Tony winner about loneliness, togetherness and “Being Alive.”
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:3170 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16 at the Masquers Playhouse, 105 Park Place, Point Richmond. $18. 232-4031.