United Players
COMPANY Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by George Furth

Dates and Venue January 22 - February 14, 2016 Thursdays-Sundaysat 8pm except Sunday Matinees January 31 & February 14 (no evening performance) at 2pm | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St.

Director Brian Parkinson Musical Director Clare Wyatt Choreographer Julie Tomaino Set Design Brian Ball Costume Design Jordan Navratil Lighting Design Randy Poulis Sound Effects Design Sean Anthony Stage Manager Becky Fitzpatrick

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Company is Stephen Sondheim’s blackly, but not bleakly, comedic look at marriage for the 30-somethings. Based on a set of short stories by George Furth it centres on Bobby on the occasion of his 35th birthday. Bobby is a character we have all met. He was the unmarried uncle with a whiff of something exotic in childhood. In later life he is the charming friend who has somehow escaped domesticity. Attractive to all, preferring women and always trailing a string of unsuitable girl-friends - too dumb, too needy, too flighty - he is half-enviable to men, half infuriating to women. On his birthday he observes his friends’ marriages and considers his single state, while they survey him, and the girl-friends.

Robert is played by Nick Fontaine with skill and charm and an almost permanent air of perplexity sometimes crumpling into panic.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. The karate fight between a diminutive Sarah (Jennifer Suratos) and her tall husband (Jacob Woike) stays in the mind. Morgan Churla as April, the flaky flight-attendant girl-friend has spot-on comic timing. Caitlin Clugston as the acerbic Joanne delivered “Ladies who Lunch “ with sardonic, sophisticated, humour. She was not without affection though both for Bobby and her long-suffering husband Larry, played by an elegant Francis Boyle. Leah Ringwald sang the manic patter song “Getting Married Today” at break-neck speed with crystalline diction. Special honours must go to stage-manager Becky Fitzpatrick who stepped in at the last minute to play Kathy when illness struck another cast member. With little rehearsal, she was step- and word-perfect in the complex song and dance numbers and had no need of the script in her hand in her long dialogue with Bobby.

A live band under killer pianist and music director Clare Wyatt played their hearts out, and with Julie Tomaino’s snappy choreography contributed hugely to the energy and fizz of the performance. Apt spotlighting and more subtle effects were provided by Randy Poulson’s lighting design.

The set was minimal. Wooden cubes served as seats and tables, easily moved to clear an intimate scene and leave a large performing space though this simple manoeuvre was sometimes unaccountably slow, in contrast to the generally quick pace. A screen cut with windows ran across the back of the stage through which the characters not on stage could observe and comment on Bobby.

Director Brian Parkinson has focused on the warmer side of dark comedy, allowing the compromises we make and the failings we all have to be willingly accepted in return for as much love and company as we find tolerable. Perfect for a cold winter’s night.

© 2016 Elizabeth Paterson