San Francisco Theater Review: COMPANY (San Francisco Playhouse at the Kensington Park Hotel)

by Milo Shapiro on July 31, 2015

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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IN GOOD COMPANY

In a world of musicals that are filled with catchy harmonies and melodies that stick in your mind, Stephen Sondheim’s songs have frequently been the rebels.  Sondheim is notorious for creating moods through carefully clashing tones and purposeful disharmonies.  For some attendees, it’s a reason to celebrate his work; for others, it’s why they aren’t drawn to them.  If you’re new to his work or feel iffy after previous experiences, Company may be the gateway drug to enjoying Sondheim.  Accordingly, San Francisco Playhouse’s current production would be a great place to make that introduction.

Amy (Monique Hafen) continues to have second thoughts as her fiance Paul (John Paul Gonzalez) looks on.

The premise is simple.  Bobby (Keith Pinto) is professional, likeable, and terminally single.  At his 35th birthday, his lack of a companion (thus the show’s title) raises concerns for his closest friends, five married couples.  They all frequently point out that they are more glad than not that they have a life companion.  As the show evolves and we peek further into the complexity of their lives, though, the reality of their ambivalence unfolds – particularly in one of the more melodious tunes, “Sorry/Grateful.”  Bobby is torn between desiring a relationship and his need to run from a commitment – both based on his friends’ imperfect marriages.

Robert (Keith Pinto) looks on as Sarah (Velina Brown) shows off her karate to husband Harry (Christopher Reber).

With George Furth’s cynically witty book, Pinto’s charismatic and relatable performance, and cast voices up to the challenge of Sondheim’s music and lyric, there’s much to admire here.  By far the most memorable scene is built around the song “Getting Married Today,” wherein Amy (Monique Hafen) confesses to the audience, in a rivetingly rapid-fire patter, that she doesn’t think she can go through with her wedding to Paul (John Paul Gonzalez).  A close second, though, is a poignantly bitter-edged Joanne (Stephanie Prentice) belting out “The Ladies Who Lunch.”  We leave Act I wondering if we’ll ever get to know Joanne and Larry, the only couple passed up by intermission.  Sondheim makes sure, ably embodied in Prentice, that we know Joanne intimately by the end of the dance club scene.

Robert (Keith Pinto) and David (Ryan Drummond) discuss married life.

From Bobby’s first entrance, with a cell phone against his head, there is no question that Director Susi Damilano makes the choice to bring this 1970 show into present day, as compared to keeping it a period piece as it is generally staged today.  The choice is effective, reflecting that the ways we meet and interact may feel different on the surface, but, underneath, we’re still the same ball of insecurities and committing the same kinds of faux pas in 2015.  Some of Shannon Sigman’s costume choices – such as the dress on Jenny (Abby Sammons) and the flight attendant uniform on dippy April (a delightful Morgan Dayley delightful) – seem a bit period but not overwhelmingly so.

Kathy (Michelle Drexler) and Robert (Keith Pinto) go for a walk together.

Dave Dobrusky’s musical direction clearly pays off as the difficult numbers are impressively handled by the cast time and again, even while pulling off Kimberly Richards’ not-so-simple choreography, which effectively fills Bill English and Jacquelyn Scott’s multi-tiered risers on a somewhat small stage.   She succeeds, at times, in using most or all of the fourteen cast members – especially in the Vaudeville-esque “Side by Side by Side.”

Harry (Christopher Reber), Peter (Michael Scott Wells), Paul (John Paul Gonzalez), David (Ryan Drummond), and Larry (Richard Frederick) try to set Robert (Keith Pinto) up with a girl.

One lyric states, “Life is company, love is company”; ironically, the show demonstrates that this may or may not be true for us all – Bobby in particular.

April (Morgan Dayley), Kathy (Michelle Drexler), and Marta (Teresa Attridge) implore Robert to settle down.

Paul (John Paul Gonzalez) prepares for his wedding.photos by Jessica Palopoli

Company
San Francisco Playhouse
Kensington Park Hotel, 450 Post St
ends on September 12, 2015
for tickets, call 415-677-9596
or visit www.sfplayhouse.org

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