I finally made it to the current revival of Company after two foiled attempts! This production is notable for a gender swap of the lead character Bobby, usually male but here played by Katrina Lenk. I have seen Company in four previous New York iterations, one in person and the others on video, and have deep affection for the show. I love how it delves into the intricacies of romantic partnership, exploring the push and pull of the human desires to be free, and to be loved.
That exploration revolves around our main character Bobby, who is single on her 35th birthday, and unfolds through a series of vignettes featuring her coupled friends and their relationships, and the three men she is casually dating. Everyone around her wants her to find someone to settle down with, but she is not so sure.
The entire cast is wonderful, the staging is exciting to watch, and the comic moments soar in this production. I enjoyed myself, but something was needling me the entire time. As someone who enjoys a new take or alternate interpretation, I was excited for the gender swap. What more might we learn about the character of Bobby as a woman?
To my disappointment they made her journey somehow lighter. They heightened the detail of her turning 35 and insinuated a “ticking” biological clock into the storyline. As if a woman needs more, or different, reasons to feel lonely, or ambiguous about being in a committed relationship. As if the complexities of fear and longing, beautifully expressed in Sondheim’s score, aren’t rich enough.
Of course there is a difference in the social stigma of a woman being single at 35 versus a man. Even now, at age 51, my choice to remain unmarried is often met with skepticism (it was worse at age 35, I’ll grant you!). My male partner of nineteen years also gets flack, but the skepticism towards him still seems to be about me, as in: she may say she doesn’t want to get married but I’m sure she must, deep down.
The biological clock is also very real and, from a societal point-of-view, uniquely female. I’m not quibbling with these concepts as valid. My frustration was that our female Bobby seemed to be responding more to external or societal pressure than she was to her own needs. Had she grappled honestly with aging or wanting a child, I might have felt differently. Could “Someone is Waiting” be performed with a subtext of maternal yearning? That would be interesting!
Ultimately, this production didn’t seem to take Bobby seriously enough to give her autonomy over her own desires. I think that’s why her journey felt light. For me, the subtle addition of gendered expectations watered down her inquiry into simply wanting love, in all of its complexity.
What makes Company so enduring is the way it champions that complexity. Bobby’s friends love her and want her to be happy, and perhaps they want to keep envying or pitying her for being single, too. The show makes room for the many ways that love can play out. It can look different for everyone, and can change on a dime. It can be maddening and disappointing and utterly confounding, and yet … if we can be vulnerable enough to receive it, then love can make us feel ALIVE.
I wanted to witness the escalation of vulnerability that makes the final number, “Being Alive”, such a satisfying catharsis for Bobby, and for all of us. That was missing for me. But I’m not sorry to have seen this production. I am in fact, grateful. Like any good relationship, it was just a little complicated.
Company is currently playing at The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, tickets and information HERE!
For all things theatre and NYC follow me on Instagram HERE!