A somewhat cynical (if good-humored) commentary on the institution of marriage, Company is a sophisticated, sly, subversive musical comedy by Stephen Sondheim (music and lyrics) and George Furth (book) that premiered in 1970 and forever changed the way we think about the genre. With no plot to speak of, and no trackable timeline, it’s more conceptual than narrative, the subject being the predicament of Bobby. We could speculate about the “message.” Perhaps the great quote by Joan Didion, “Anything worth having has it’s price,” or the secret to any mature relationship is compromise, but we have to wonder if the quizzical ending logically follows from what came before, or if it was somehow, fudged. Whatever flaws Company may have, though, are trivial. It continues to be, 46 years later, compelling, breathtaking, sharp and undeniably entertaining. With a subtext lurking like a feisty schnauzer. Many songs have an angry undercurrent, The Ladies Who Lunch is really furious, Barcelona may be one of the saddest songs ever written, and Being Alive is tortured and ambivalent.
Bobby, it might seem, has found the perfect balance. A gathering of spontaneous, frank friendships composed solely of married couples to nurture him, while he juggles three (that we know of) girlfriends. Whether intuitively or by skill, Bobby is the impeccable friend: the soul of tact, emotionally available, discreet and non-judgmental. His social skills are beyond reproach. His quandary is while he may simply be delaying that trip to the altar, his experience of marriage (external though it may be) leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t seem to be working all that well for his friends, so what is there, really, to recommend it? Even if we consider the cultural changes that have occurred since Company’s inception, these questions are still pointed and troubling. Part of Sondheim’s genius is undercutting even peppy songs with deprecating insight. Before the last curtain falls, Bobby concludes that it’s impossible to have depth of intimacy without pain. Not untrue, but, especially considering the ambiguous ending, hardly a remedy for the complexity of this show.
Lakeside Community Theatre and director Benjamin Keegan Arnold, has taken on a considerable project with Company, a demanding, frantic, deceptively emotional piece. One senses that that Arnold is buffering content a bit, but still, he handles it with confidence and aplomb. The cast is ebullient, clever, versatile and poised. Company is grand, exhilarating and unforgettable.