Produced by the Actors Guild of Parkersburg
Robert isn’t exactly surprised by the party his friends throw for him on his 35th birthday. Nor is he really shocked to find that all of them, couples either married or engaged, try to set him up with someone so he can get married too. What he does seem to be a bit nonplussed by, though, is the fact that, simultaneous to their trying to get him married off, they spend an awful lot of time demonstrating just how dysfunctional their relationships are. This is the premise of the Actors Guild of Parkersburg’s upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Company.
Reviewing this show is a bit tricky, because, in the words of director Charlie Matthews, “Sondheim is an acquired taste.” I’ll be brutally honest. While there were many elements of the show’s text I loved, there were also numerous moments that simply made me uncomfortable. But none of those were a function of Mr. Matthews’ direction or of the performances of the stellar cast members. This play is not to be mistaken for a traditional American musical comedy. It is musical and has many comic elements, but it deals with rather dark, adult issues and it does so in a stark, raw way. There were times that I literally had trouble not turning away from the stage.
All that having been said, Sondheim’s treatment of marriage and relationships is thought-provoking and layered. As long as you go in prepared for that, you’ll appreciate this show. And, as I said, the production itself is just plain remarkable. Anyone who has seen enough Guild productions knows that one of the things that marks every single Charlie Matthews show is that it is as close to flawless as community theater can get. From casting to setting, from blocking to performing, from props to sound, it’s all top-notch.
While every cast member is important, the show is necessarily carried by Robert, so the quality of the man who plays him is, to a large extent, going to make or break the show. In the case of Chad Ridgway, it definitely makes it. He is spot-on in every aspect of his performance. The sarcasm that disguises a deep sense of vulnerability and loneliness is portrayed with great aplomb. And his singing voice is just terrific.
The same is true of the whole cast. Everyone is believable and each of the main cast members gets a chance to shine. Probably my favorite bit, and by far the funniest scene in the entire show, is the complete meltdown of Heather Allen’s Amy as she prepares to marry her fiancé Paul, also wonderfully portrayed by Carter Rice. I seriously have no idea how Ms. Allen sang so many words so quickly without passing out, but it was flat-out hilarious. And it wasn’t just her vocal performance. Her facial and physical mannerisms were perfection. She is a remarkable comedic actor.
I could go on and on about the individual performances, but what makes the play work best is its ensemble nature. While Mr. Ridgway’s performance is key, it is the chemistry of the couples that raises the quality to its greatest heights. These are performances worthy of your time and money. So, while I urge caution, especially about bringing younger children to this show, I can recommend it highly, especially if it causes you to take the time to reflect on and discuss what it has to say about marriage and relationships.
Joe Stephens is a National Board Certified Teacher at Parkersburg High School. He was a 2005 recipient of the Milken National Educator Award. He has a bachelor’s degree from Glenville State College and a master’s from Walden University. His third novel, In the Shadow, is now available on Amazon.