Marry Me a Little, songs by Stephen Sondheim, conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman Renť. Directed by Jonathan Silverstein.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Leah Horowitz and Paul Anthony Stewart sing "Pour le Sport"; photo provided
"There wonít be trumpets."
When you are working with second-rate Stephen Sondheim you are still working with some of the best material to be had in the theater. But you still donít necessarily have the best show of your own. This is the dilemma of "Marry Me a Little," which contains material cut from "A Little Night Music," "Follies," "Company," "Anyone Can Whistle," and the scores of "Saturday Night," and "The Girls of Summer."
On stage at the Dorset Playhouse the summer draws to a close with a production of this plotted review in which two people, a man and a woman, who live in two separate apartments in the same building (2C and 3C) that so closely resemble one another it is hard to tell them apart, spend a Saturday evening alone at home dreaming about love, past lovers, and their hapless lives. In eighteen songs they move from their arrival home to an early bedtime (the show takes an hour) and the semisweet stain they leave on their environment will be clearly washed away by the morning sunrise.
Leah Horowitz and Paul Anthony Stewart are the non-couple. Their stories are so similar that if they happened to get on the elevator at the same time, this all might change into a story with a happy, if temporary, ending. But this night, at least, that is not in the cards.
As directed by Jonathan Silverstein, with movement work overseen by Barry McNabb, the unspoken story is less than bitter, more than disastrous and less than pleasant. Silverstein moves his people around, practically comatose at time, with a languid, nearly turgid and defeatist attitude. On the night I saw the show it began raining outside, and the rain was so hard and incessant that it leant an even darker, more miserable sensibility to the proceedings.
The final tune in the show, "It Wasnít Meant to Happen" leaves its audience despairing, Iím afraid, rather than even reluctantly hopeful about the future for these two nice, attractive people. Following the brighter, though difficult psychologically, song "There Wonít Be Trumpets" this ending is a sudden trip into the nightmarish world of Sondheim whose own history of relationships has not been so healthy either, as far as I can tell.
In fact the title song for this show, cut from "Company" was replaced with a song that has the same lyrics but a totally different feeling. In that show there is hope when Bobby sings "Someone to hold me too close," and so on. In "Marry me a Little" the original song veers off from the spoken aspirations into the disclosed disgust of loss and emotional deprivation.
The show is so dark, in fact, that even the comic high points are somehow unrelieved. The Sondheim independent hit "Can That Boy Foxtrot," sung very sweetly and with perhaps a too naive interpretation at time, glows in the darkness of this bizarre show. The duet "Your Eyes are Blue" from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" gave both performers a chance to shine in some positive light for a while before things went into the bluer, and grayer world once again. "Pour le Sport" from the musical "The Last Resorts" takes its sports metaphors into the comic stratosphere but it helps neither the Man and Woman nor the audience to feel better about the world being shown on this stage. Rather it helps to solidify the concept that this particular Saturday Night is not very different from the one before it or the one before that. In fact these folks are too bored and tired to break this pattern.
Leah Horowitz has a sweet voice and personality and although not distracting, she is certainly diverting. One can almost imagine this life on stage as her own somehow. It is a world bordered by her locking her door before bedtime, all five locks. Horowitz brings out our sympathy, at least, and we listen to her intently as she sings, hoping against hope that a phone will ring, or a doorbell will sound. In her portrayal she gives us hope for her, something she seems to have dropped along the way.
Paul Anthony Stewart seems the sort of handsome devil who would never spend an evening alone, and so it becomes an even more pitiable situation to find him in mourning for his own social life. When he sings "Uptown, Downtown" the lyric about a schizophrenic personality it is obvious from the lyric that he is not singing about his own character. This is about a woman, and yet it is so foreign in his voice and his physicality that we get, and can live with, the impression that he just might be expressing something latent and hidden about himself.
Bill Clarkeís sets are wonderful. The large pattern on the high, dark wall conceals, then reveals, the accompanist, musical director John Bell, who plays beautifully, lending this show the musical sheen it needs if the director wants us to leave the theater not slitting our own wrists. Bell is a major asset to this show and Josh Bradfordís lighting gives us a lot when Bell is on the scene, which is most of the time.
Silverstein helps us along, also, through the sincerity of each playerís occupancy of their own space - even though for the purpose of the play they occupy the exact same space at the exact same time. The one apartment is meant to be each personís dwelling and the actors and director have made that very apparent.
If there is a fun side to this show it is the double occupancy of the stage space and the musical talents of Bell. The more serious aspects come from the two performers and the man who wrote the material they sing. It is a nice balance that has been struck here in Dorset, but the show will never be a total crowd-pleaser, not even when the two are in bed. They are not together. Neither is the show itself for all the good elements on the stage.
Marry Me a Little plays at the Dorset Playhouse through August 29. The Dorset Theatre Festivalís performance space is located at 104 Cheney Road in Dorset, Vermont. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-867-5777.