Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

The Missing Part of 'Company'

Why does Stephen Sondheim's Company always seem like it's missing something? Hint: It has to do with evolving concepts of sexuality.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

La Cieca (#1,110)

Needs more photos of Christina Hendricks in a slip.

@La Cieca I think we can possibly accommodate that!

It's missing something because the dramatic resolution ("Being Alive") is totally unearned, and instead arrives rather like a deus ex machina.

Tyler Coates (#451)

Isn't it funny how sometimes great theatre doesn't have to make sense, though? I think the success of Company relies heavily on the songs and the performances rather than the story (because, essentially, there isn't one).

I see your point, but I'm not sure it applies. If Company really committed to not making sense, a la Beckett or Ionesco (or the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges), that would be one thing. But instead it walks this funky middle ground that ultimately leaves me, at least, a little unsatisfied–notwithstanding all the enjoyable and semi-profound moments that occur over the course of the musical.

Tyler Coates (#451)

I don't think it doesn't make sense on purpose, I just think that it could be seen as more of a revue than anything with a plot. It's like Cats!

deepomega (#1,720)

@Tyler Wikipedia claims it's a "concept musical," so basically yeah it's Cats with couples.

Br. Seamus (#217)

@Tyler & deep Why Cats? We can't go with Hair? Fuck Cats.

City_Dater (#2,500)

@Tyler Coates
Except that even mentioning an Andrew Lloyd Webber score in the same sentence as a Stephen Sondheim score is laughable.

Tyler Coates (#451)

@City_Dater (I am in on the joke.)

Bittersweet (#765)

@Tyler Coates Trying to imagine a Cats/Company mashup in which Macavity and Mr. Mistopheles discuss balling and Grizzabella sings "Not Getting Married Today" instead of "Memory." I smell a hit!

La Cieca (#1,110)

@Bittersweet I see Grizabella being more a "Ladies Who Lunch" type, but it's definitely mashup gold.

Moira (#11,124)

I don't buy it.

The archtype that the author is putting forth – the urbane, non-threatening, uncoupled gay third wheel/BFF to a straight couple – is a valid one. That archtype is all over popular culture.

But! That's not who Robert is. To assume so is rather narrow-minded; it's saying that a person estranged from his own emotions has to be gay. Really? There are no other possible explanations for an adult to be struggling with self-knowledge in his 30s? Really?

I'm not making this arguement terrribly well. Raul Esparza made it far better in the 2006 Broadway production. It's on netflix watch instantly. Go see for yourself.

La Cieca (#1,110)

@Moira As the alter-ego of the author, let me hasten to say that the author is not saying "that a person estranged from his own emotions has to be gay," or that the character of Robert is "supposed" to be gay. That's not the argument.

Rather, it's that the character of Robert is informed by Sondheim's and Furth's experience of being gay in the 1950s and 1960s, at which time the general understanding of what "being gay" meant was very incomplete and in many ways inaccurate.

What makes the character confusing and contradictory is that in part Bobby behaves like the "urbane, non-threatening, uncoupled gay third wheel/BFF" and at other times he behaves like a very different sort of "estranged" trope, the swinging bachelor. But the swinging bachelor is (or is generally thought of as) a straight guy; the urbane gay is, well, a gay guy.

So what happens in "Company" (so the writer believes) is that Bobby is Urbane Gay when that type fits the needs of the story and Swinging Bachelor other times. That's like writing a murder mystery in which the requirements of the plot make the killer blue-eyed sometimes and brown-eyed other times, complicated by authors who insist that the character cannot under any circumstances be portrayed as having blue eyes, because that was NOT what they intended. (And, further, I'm not saying Bobby might have hazel eyes, because, you know, it was the '70s, and people were very experimental back then.)

I happen to loathe Esparza's performance in Company; it's really too bad nobody told him they weren't doing Sweeney Todd that night.

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