SALT LAKE CITY — Company, currently produced by Silver Summit Theatre Company, delves into all too-pertinent question of finding companionship in a predominantly independent world. Robert—or Bobby as he is called—is surrounded by a menagerie of friends, all of whom are loving couples that willingly welcome him into their homes. And though Robert seems perfectly content to meander throughout life without a constant counterpart, the strange parables of his friends’ various relationships reminds him that, perhaps, there is more to this life than self-pursuit. In little vignettes, the ups and downs of relationships have a profound effect on Robert. He also has three separate relationships with different women, each with the potential to change his life. And while his commit-free lifestyle certainly seems enviable from the outside, Robert’s own reflection suggests that something more—or rather, someone more might be preferable.
The usual linear narrative of theater is discarded for George Furth and Stephen Sondheim‘s musical, and instead the story relies on short scenes to tell Robert’s story. Chronology is discarded, with the only firm anchor being that Robert is celebrating his 35th birthday. The events of that night are relived three separate times, each with outcome suggesting a different lesson learned. The plot structure is certainly an unusual one and might be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the musical, but anchoring events to Robert’s birthday celebration helps to tether the vignettes together. Overarching themes of defining one’s wants, of relationships, and finding solidarity in true comfort further solidify the story.
Director Kate Rufener utilizes smart blocking and a cohesive ensemble to bring together the unusual structure, and Robert’s growth arc is clearly apparent. Though welcomed into the homes of friends and interacting with his girlfriends, Robert always seems to be on the exterior of his interactions. This isolation grants Robert an outsider’s view into the play, and it becomes apparent, perhaps, just how profound his situation is. Yet, I was surprised to find that I did not like the protagonist in Company—and not on grounds of performance. Rick Rea delivers a strong execution in this role, displaying a grounded nature in a somewhat stylized piece. The indifference, the calloused regard with which Robert treats the women he encounters is at odds with his co-dependency upon his friends, and I found myself wondering if the relationships he envied would ever really make him happy.
The supporting cast holds its own strength on the stage, and I was impressed with the number and variety of character packed into the show. In fact, I found myself more emotionally invested in the nuances of Robert’s friends than in his own quest to find meaning. Of particular note is Marcie Jacobsen as Joanne, whose formidable cynicism and ability to control the stage wowed from her first moments. Joanne seems to act as a counterpoint for Robert, and she felt like the inevitable outcome of his actions: a warning that actually has effect on our protagonist. Heather Shelley as April brings a saccharine presence to the stage, a genuine sweetness that has potential to bring Robert exactly what he’s searching for. She plays her role with an utmost sincerity, and in her naïve affections, seems to have the ability to change his heart; however, Robert’s more lustful intentions are apparent in ” Barcelona.” The dynamics of chemistry are there, making the morning-after that much more dissonant.
Technically, the musical qualities of this show were executed in strength. Music director Anne Puzey creates a cast dynamic that is memorable, and the cast’s voices meet the demands of Sondheim’s difficult score, and Furth’s psychological story. There were some moments when volume of voices seemed to battle the piano’s volume, which made some of the lyrics difficult to hear. Similarly, the microphone system was not necessarily an aid to this production, and there were moments of trouble in discerning what exactly was being said. In other words, the sound was nice but what the sound was couldn’t be understood. Sightlines were another problem during the performance, as a majority of the action seemed to be happening on the same plane of the audience’s seating. It was a chore to peer around taller heads and try to see the scenes acted on lower levels of the stage. The Sugar Space has a lot of potential, however, as a space and I look forward to seeing it transform as the company continues to produce quality-level work.
All in all? Company proves a smart choice for the Utah theater community, especially for young independent adults trying to foster their place in the world. And while the script (from 1970) may hold some language outdated for a contemporary audience. Yet, the pulse of the story is the same, and it is easy to “want something.” I would encourage a mature audience to see this piece, to support the Silver Summit Theater Company, and really let themselves be moved by this story as I was.