Katrina Lenk in ‘Company.’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
I feel your pain. Singledom in a heteronormative world where marriage and children continue to be idealized can be both exhausting and debilitating. The Hallmark Channel feels entirely dedicated to such efforts, with seasonal offerings promising eternal hope of love and happiness. “It’s the little things you do together, do together, do together, that make perfect relationships,” after all. Who needs to get caught up in the mire? But it does make for a great night at the theatre.
Things looked a bit different the first time you appeared on Broadway back in 1970. You were “Bobby” back then — the figment of composer Stephen Sondheim and writer George Furth’s imaginations. Fifty years later, director Marianne Elliott has reconsidered your gender (Katrina Lenk), and we get to witness the added complexities of gender norms and expectations that women of a certain age face, even in this era of shattering glass ceilings.
Watching your Alice in Wonderland-like fever dream brings back a lot of memories — one from just last week as I hit yet another crossroad on a dating journey with divergent paths. Of course, I didn’t have the benefit of a Sondheim melody underscoring the fallout. But a similar sentiment arose: What am I doing here? What does it mean to be ‘in relationship’ with someone? Maybe I should just have a bourbon?
You surround yourself with an eclectic cast of friends, from hyper-competitive Harry (Christopher Sieber) and Sarah (Jennifer Simard) to panicky Jamie (Matt Doyle), who fears the wedding alter despite the relatively new federal legality of same-sex marriage, and your school of hard knocks bestie, Joanne (Patti LuPone), among others. They each have decidedly strong perspectives about what your intimate life should look like because people were born to have opinions.
So we push ahead. I mean, what’s the alternative? Your devilishly nerdish friend David (Christopher Fitzgerald) said it best after you smoked some weed with him and his wife (Nikki Renée Daniels) on the front stoop of their New York City apartment building: “We’re just too old! We were all – trying to be kids again tonight… Who wants to go back? It was hard enough getting this far.”
“Thirty-five” hangs on their door, as well as appearing in Harry and Sarah’s living room artwork, a clock frozen in Jamie’s kitchen at 3:05, and massively oversized helium balloons brought by your friends for a claustrophobic, amoeba-like birthday gathering — each looming as a constant reminder that age, at least in this society, is more than just a number.
I admire how present you are with each of them — listening, laughing and consoling each in a way that makes me believe you’d be a great lover. You keep your emotions at arms’ length most of the time, letting others unfurl all the iterations of your wants and desires. Twice do they crack through the surface, first when you sing to the universe “marry me a little” and the sky opens up to drench you in a storm worthy of Prospero.
Later, in song, you ask “someone” then “somebody” to hold you too close, hurt you too deep, need you too much and know you too well, all with the hope “to help us survive being alive.”
Survival has taken on new meaning since you first appeared 50 years ago. It feels quite literal these days, from raging gun violence and an ongoing pandemic to natural disasters that tear our lives from our hands and hearts. I’m not sure either of us will ever find what we’re looking for. But it’s reassuring to know we’re both still trying.
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Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.