If you wish to see the best arguments for limiting the right to marry, check out Theater Latté Da's brilliant new staging of "Company." Mind you, there's nothing political, and the scalding depictions of marriage are of the man-and-woman variety. One couple gets divorced but remains living together; two dreary mates bathe their ennui in booze; a bride breaks into code-red panic, and above it all circles a man who sees these things and isn't sure wedded bliss is blissful.
Stephen Sondheim's musical broke the Broadway mold in 1970 with its enigmatic hero and vignette structure. The songs comment on, rather than propel the slim story. It is supremely cool, archly observed and dry-aged in the ethos of New York. As a consequence, "Company" has not done well in the hinterlands.
That may change with director Peter Rothstein's sharp and thoroughly engaging production, which opened Saturday at the Ordway Center's McKnight Theatre in St. Paul. Rothstein pulls off a neat trick: He preserves the sensibility of 1970 and introduces the trappings of 2012 to create something timeless. Tom Mays has designed a minimalist set, with elegant stairs that surround the stage. The white walls reflect projections of New York locations, of pop-art design and birthday candles.
Those candles are there because Bobby (Dieter Bierbrauer) is celebrating his 35th birthday, and Rothstein proposes that the show's action takes place in a suspended moment -- just as Bobby makes a wish and blows out the candles.
Bierbrauer's reserved charm shows Bobby both observing his married friends at arm's length, but also getting into their lives. He relishes the hysteria of marijuana with Jenny (Kim Kivens) and David (Matt Rein); he watches jaded Joanne (Jody Briskey) drink herself angry with husband Larry (Jim Pounds). Suzy Kohane's Amy blisters her way through "Getting Married Today," listing every reason why she shouldn't go to the altar with Paul (David Darrow).
Bobby also steps into three relationships. Heidi Bakke is the most memorable, as April, an airhead who flies in and out of Bobby's life.
Under the direction of Jerry Rubino, the music sounds fantastic, and the singers are uniformly strong. Briskey delivers the jaundiced "Ladies Who Lunch," Bierbrauer plaintively offers "Marry Me a Little." Michael Matthew Ferrell's choreography flows like a breeze through "Side by Side by Side."
This show unfairly gets criticized for lacking heart. Bierbrauer -- under Rothstein's eye -- demonstrates the sincere trepidation of a person who desires marriage in his head, but isn't sure in his heart. It is, after all, a big step.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299 • Follow on Twitter: @GraydonRoyce