At the start of the intermission to Friday night's District Theatre performance of Company, my partner turned to me and said, "I don't remember this show being that funny." He was right, because director David Turley accentuates the funny parts in this musical by composer Stephen Sondheim and writer George Furth. He does so, however, with subtle nudges and winks that almost cross over into silliness but don't, and that keep the production from sinking into sappy sentimentality.
There are plenty of opportunities for directors to get overly emotional with this story of Bobby (Bryan Tank), a man still single in his mid-30s despite the invasive efforts of his married-couple friends, all of whom are trying to get him hitched. Sondheim's lyrics and Furth's script explore various kinds of marital relationships and the ways in which love plays out, and allow Bobby to consider the characteristics of the women in his life (among them his three girlfriends).
In this production, though, Tank is as difficult to pin down as Bobby is; on Friday, it didn't seem that the actor had fleshed out the character quite yet, so we were left with mere hints about Bobby's motivations and personality. In one scene in which Bobby got high with friends, Tank did manage to suggest a contemplative observer of life who refuses to alter the thoughts and behaviors keeping him from marital commitment, and it was evident from this sequence (and from past productions in which I've marveled at Tank's efforts) that the actor has the talent to deliver a notable performance. But it seems he needs a director to help him shape his portrayals, and considering the lack of movement in his scenes - with Tank often looking somewhat uncertain about where to go and what to do with his arms - I'm guessing that Turley took a hands-off approach with Tank, when he maybe should have aided Tank in molding his character.
As it stands, Tank's Bobby disappears into the rest of Company's crowd of strong personalities. And in a way, that's okay, because the others are so entertaining. Linda Ruebling has a fascinatingly funny moment in which her Sarah - a woman who constantly needles husband Harry about his drinking habit - appears to be approaching orgasmic climax as she holds a bite of brownie centimeters from her lips, craving this treat her diet doesn't allow. Ruebling's physical performance here, in the way she sensually slides her hand down her side before collapsing on the floor, is both stunning and hilarious. As Harry, Mark Ruebling exudes remarkable passivity, allowing Sarah's constant pokes to roll off his back (with a smile), and delivers his lines in that unexpected, quirky way that tickles me every time I see him on stage. When he performs "Sorry-Grateful," though - one of my all-time-favorite love songs - he tackles it gently, and with respectful sentiment.
Sara King, another local favorite of mine, delivers beautiful moments of sad contemplation in Marta's number "Another Hundred People." While employing her impressive belt voice, King also softens her vocals at appropriate times, driving home the song's more somber themes as she explains to Bobby the pulse of New York City. And Jenny Winn brings down the house with bride-to-be Amy's "Getting Married Today." The song, with its rapid-fire lyrics, would leave anyone breathless. Winn, however, doesn't miss a beat; she delivers every word clearly (while making exceptional use of her facial expressions) to punctuate the song's humor, and her awe-inspiring performance elicited Friday's loudest and longest applause.
There's so much to be applauded in Turley's production. Erin Lounsberry's ditzy April, Bobby's stewardess girlfriend, is a delight. Playing Bobby's friends David and Jenny in the marijuana scene, John VanDeWoestyne's utterly believable coughing fits are well-matched with Christina Myatt's talkative, almost sing-song-y state of highness. As Bobby's girlfriend Kathy, Tracy Pelzer-Timm exudes a welcome sweetness, one equaled by Paul Workman's Paul as he puts up with fiancée Amy's hysterics. Christopher Tracy and Wendy Czekalski have strong chemistry as divorcing couple Peter and Susan. And with Brian Nelson lending graceful, jovial support as her husband Larry, Angela Elliott offers a heartfelt, grave delivery of rich bitch Joanne's "Ladies Who Lunch," performed in stark contrast to the condescending, wise-cracking delivery of the rest of her portrayal. Even with this Company's not-fully-fleshed-out Bobby, there's a great deal that's very good about this evening of entertainment.
Company plays at the District Theatre (1611 Second Avenue in Rock Island) through February 18. For tickets and information, call (309)235-1654 or visit DistrictTheatre.com.