theatre review

by Stephen Sondheim
Triptych Theatricals
Waterfront Theatre
October 1-16
(604) 257-0366

Stephen Sondheim himself put together this revue of his mostly lesser-known songs as a kind of sequel to Side by Side by Sondheim. Drawn from his stage musicals like Sunday in the Park with George, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies and Company, and his movie soundtrack to Dick Tracy, the scenario is that a middle-aged couple whose marriage is falling apart has invited a younger couple and another young man to a party in their Manhattan condo. In this Triptych production, Sondheim's deeply cynical songs about love, marriage and relationships are re-contextualized with mixed success.

I've never found his music particularly memorable, but Sondheim's lyrics are as witty and intelligent as any ever written for the theatre. This is evident right from the top with a song instructing the audience, "When there's a pause, please/Lots of applause, please."

But his lyrical brilliance shines most brightly--or most darkly--in dissecting the painful disintegration of a marriage. While the wife reflects on her husband's narcissism--"Who can contend with an endless erection/That falls to its knees when it sees its reflection?"--the husband advises the younger man, "Marriage may be where it's been/But it isn't where it's at." In the lacerating "Country House" (from Sondheim's Follies), husband and wife try desperately to figure out how to patch up the marriage. Buy a country house? ("Whatever makes you happy.") See a shrink? get a dog? adopt a child? Maybe we can take a second honeymoon, she offers. Should be better than the first, he mutters with a smile. Act One ends with the wife singing "Could I Leave You?" (also from Follies): "Could I bury my rage/With a boy half your age/In the grass?/Bet your ass!"

The second act is more of the same, with the show's best number reserved almost for last, rendering anti-climactic the two final songs and the surprisingly unmotivated happyish ending. "Being Alive," from Company, has the ensemble singing individually and in beautiful choral harmony a kind of prayer, each wondering how their lives could have ended up like this, and invoking some nameless deity to "make me alive."

Despite so much great stuff, many of the 36 songs fall flat due to unremarkable scores or underwhelming performances or both. The two women fare best. Jane Leroux as the wife has the strongest voice and the best material, while Michelle Miazga is by far the most dynamic performer in a non-Equity cast that seems lethargic at times, and her best numbers--"Lovely," "More"--are among the show's most upbeat. Kerry O'Donovan, as the unattached young man and MC, comes alive in the Jolsonesque "Buddy's Blues," delineating the neurotic contradictions of love ("If I'm good enough for you/You're not good enough"). David Hinton as the husband has a nice voice but no presence, and James Rowley often seems out of his depth, though both do fine in the choral ensembles where the production's weaknesses are least visible.

Despite its hit and miss quality, I recommend this show--unless you're in the middle of a crumbling marriage.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:19 PM
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