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Some pieces of art offer an escape from reality, and others punch you in the gut. I left the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Company” in Farkas Hall on Sunday gasping for air. The show, directed by Dana Knox and Rose C. Bailey ’14, attacked every note in the Sondheim-penned songbook, sometimes sarcastically and sometimes tenderly. The result was a brutally awkward and emotionally wrecking show carried by a set of moving individual performances; each served as a searing indictment against shallow societal constructions, false relationships, and self-imposed isolation.
“Company” follows Bobby (Eric Padilla ’14), just off his 35th birthday, as he navigates single life among his married friends in New York City. The genius behind the musical lies in its anachronism and contradictions: it’s an old-fashioned song-and-dance Broadway show that deals in darker, more modern themes like sex, divorce, and depression. The joyous full-cast dance numbers and the lush harmonies all serve as smokescreens for a deep dissatisfaction coming from nearly every character. Knox and Bailey skillfully navigated this divide, especially in “Side by Side by Side,” the opening number of the second act. The cast put on its best ear-to-ear grins to schmaltz around the versatile two-leveled set—designed by Ethan R. Pierce ’14 and Christina M. Rodriguez ’15— all the while intermittently tap-dancing and line-kicking in a routine humorously choreographed by Julia K. Cataldo ’15. The orchestral band, directed by Ethan T. Addicott ‘14, played impeccably, and the vocal harmonies were crisp, but the leading man to which the song was dedicated was nowhere to be found. In his absence, they were singing into a void, and the exaggerated performances of the characters rendered the scene hollow and unsettling.
Despite its title, “Company” leans heavily on the strength of individual performances. Padilla was essentially a blank slate until the last ten or so minutes, so it was up to the parade of supporting actors who streamed across the stage in short bursts to keep the show lively and moving. It’s a common cliché to say that one particular actor steals the show, but in “Company,” show-stealing performances came one after the other. First up to bat were Morgan E. Henry ’14 and Daniel W. Erickson ’14, who showed the best chemistry out of any couple with their frenzied, passionate portrayal of the dysfunctional pair Sarah and Harry. In a particularly inventive directorial choice, Henry, Erickson and Padilla formed a tableau piled on top of each other in furious battle while a set of cast members on the other side of the stage serenely sang the praises of marriage in “The Little Things You Do Together.” The lighting here, designed by Addicott, firmly emphasized the imbalance between the two scenes on opposite ends of the stage.
Next up was the adorable Olivia R. Miller ’16 as Bobby’s oddball love interest, April—almost solely for her deadpan delivery of the single awkward line, “I have nothing else to say”—and then Amy K. Sparrow ’15 as Amy, who convincingly transformed from psychopathic to tenderly loving in about 40 seconds. And when she got the chance, Elizabeth K. Leimkuhler ’15 (Joanne) rightly commanded full attention. The staging for “The Ladies Who Lunch” focused mainly on Leimkuhler as everyone else got out of the way. A single spotlight shone on Leimkuhler as she delivered her drunk, seething, virtuosic solo. It’s incredible how many shows Leimkuhler has hijacked in her three years as an undergraduate performer, and Sunday’s performance was no exception.
When the performances faltered slightly, Bailey and Knox turned up the awkwardness of the stage setup in order to drive home Bobby’s ongoing discomfort in his social interactions. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether performances fell flat or were consciously stiff; either way, the play was filled with tense, nervous sequences. The most striking of these included Bobby and April’s startlingly explicit sex scene on the floor-level bed in which the female leads swarmed around, scolding him, and Peter’s (Akshay M. Sharma ’14) come-on to Bobby in which Peter traps Bobby on the corner of a building ledge and inches closer and closer to him. These cringe-inducing performances highlighted the loneliness and desperation of the protagonist and of those around him.
Padilla came to life in the finale, “Being Alive,” euphorically showing off his wonderfully rich voice. But he retreated back into his shell for the closing scene, in which Bobby blows out the candles on his birthday cake alone in his apartment, his face once again registering uncertainty, longing, and resignation. “I would laugh if it weren’t all so tragic,” says Amy at one point. HRDC’s “Company” excellently walked the line between old-fashioned humor and modern tragedy, ultimately capturing the latter in a devastating way.
—Staff writer Andrew R. Chow can be reached at email@example.com.
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