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THEATRE ‌ Coupling

This Sondheim musical's weaknesses outweigh its strengths

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Company
Footlight Players
Running through May 26 at 8 p.m.
$15-$25
Footlight Theatre, 20 Queen St.
722-4487

For the final production of their landmark 75th season, the Footlight Players have chosen a Stephen Sondheim musical last performed in 1998, and the result is a mixed bag ranging from cringe-worthy to credible. Although it's fun, it's not Sondheim's strongest, most memorable work. But under the direction of local theatre and dance veteran Bob Ivey, Company reflects the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the Footlights and community theatre in general.

When everyone in this show works in unison, it's a pleasure to watch. When the cast sings as an approving chorus, commenting on lead character Robert's life, they're quite good. And they're capable of signaling the larger-than-life quirks of their characters. The shortcomings of the individual actors and singers only become obvious when they don't have any backup.

As Robert, Brandon Joyner always has plenty of support. Ironically, he's the one who needs it the least. Robert's a single guy torn between the loneliness of bachelorhood and the tedium of marriage, surrounded by friends who are all coupled up and full of advice.

Cory Miller and Ed Reynolds are Sarah and Harry, a pair who love each other almost as much as they love their vices. Sarah's a food voyeur obsessed with brownies; Harry's got a hard-on for hard liquor. They agree to disagree throughout their scene, which culminates in a mock karate tussle. Unlike some of their castmates, Miller and Reynolds are loud and wacky enough to make the scene effective.

As Peter and Susan, Ryan Rensberry and Meredith Dickard are less successful. Rensberry is particularly hard to hear at times, especially when he's singing. But Peter and Susan's scene still manages to continue the running theme of marriage-as-pain-in-the-ass; they cheerfully admit to Robert that their wedded bliss is a complete illusion.

The next segment proves that in a scene where people get stoned, only the smokers will be in hysterics. The moments that make the audience chortle come from the characters, not the clichéd situation — the outwardly straight-laced Jenny (Rebecca Knox) spouts mild expletives, egged on by her husband David (Jason Looney). Volume's a major problem here, as it's tough to hear any of Looney's lines. After straining to hear Rensberry, it begins to sound like most of Robert's male friends are subservient and timorous.

Sondheim's smart lyrics and complex songs are part of Company's allure, so it's a shame that many of those lines are drowned out by a three-piece band. There are times when the cast seem to be singing against the music instead of with it. The Footlights acoustics are part of the problem, but louder singing — or quieter musical accompaniment — would definitely help. Note to actors: you can give the greatest stage performance of your life, full of subtle nuance and emotional expression, but if the audience can't hear you, there ain't much point turning up. Likewise, if you can't sing, spare a thought for the audience before you volunteer to appear in a musical.

There are no terrible singers in this production, but only a few strong ones. Fortunately, Brandon Joyner is confident enough to handle the main role. His solo "Someone is Waiting" is one of Company's high points. As his girlfriends, Kristin Abbott, Andrea Horath, and Amanda Allen all add fizz to the show, as does Bettina Beard's cold-footed bride who faces the horrific prospect of lifelong fidelity.

June Palmer's shrewdly varied costumes and scenic designer Richard Heffner's set are also top notch. Heffner creates several different levels using a series of raised platforms, depicting a living room, terrace, apartment, kitchen, terrace, and other spaces. In the background a cloud-scraping skyline is suggested. Some unusual lighting helps to draw our attention to different parts of the set, but isn't always flattering for the actors — at one point, Kristin Abbott's skin is given a bright purple hue.

Company would be consistently enjoyable if all the actors could be heard and they found a little common ground in their acting styles, which range from big and farcical to quiet and natural. As it stands, this one's for jaded marrieds only.

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