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Playing with marital pursuit

Company, written by Stephen Sondheim. At the Spingold Theater, Brandeis University, through May 4, at 8pm. Tickets $7.50.

Brandeis University's production of "Company," the Stephen Sondheim play, attains a happy medium between polished Broadway production and homespun MIT offerings. Please keep the following paragraph separation if possible.

It's not that I have anything against MIT's dramas and shows -- I recently had the pleasure of accompanying one musically. Constant exposure to these somewhat unrefined (albeit enjoyable) offerings, however, leaves one forgetful of plays replete with sharp sets, production designers, and practicing actors. This is exactly what Brandeis' "Company" proffers.

"Company" follows the marital pursuit of Robert (played by Ray Wills), the main character of the story. Robert's life and the play's plot transcend the typical "unhappy man finds a gorgeous woman, woos her with some difficulty, and lives happily ever after." This middle-aged man doesn't know who or what he is looking for, except for a "complete" life, presumably including spouse and children.

The five couples that are his closest friends make things particularly difficult, by alternately displaying the wonders and pitfalls of marriage, divorce and getting old(er). Particularly bewildering to Robert are Peter and Susan who finally find happiness by getting divorced and raising their children together, and the lovey-dovey argumentative Harry and Sarah, disagreeing as to who has the better karate throws.

The comparative polish and excellent selection of the cast does much to realize this situation. Ray Wills, a graduate student in acting at Brandeis, represents the perfect 1970's, middle-aged bachelor-next-door. Hair always in place, well-worn smile and sweater-vest always present, Mr. Wills manages to put up with an array of peculiar dates and mediate a host of marital squabbles.

Like Robert, Marta, April and Kathy (his short-term companions) are real people with personal problems. April argues that she is dumb, while Kathy marries to find a life, not to find a love. None of the women are quite "good enough" for Robert's befriending couples. Yet the couples are not quite sure what is good enough for themselves, or why they bothered to marry, or how they wound up with that person.

The main set, innovative for its time, epitomizes the coldness of the 1970s with steel tubes and sparse furniture creating New York City apartments. Most inspiring though, is the music of Stephen Sondheim, in one of his most acclaimed productions. The entire score has been popularized through various forms, and includes "Side by Side by Side" and "The Ladies who Lunch."

The plot reaches its climax as Robert exclaims his desire for "someone to hurt me too deep; someone who'll force me to share; and like it or not, a little, a lot, and help me survive," in "Being Alive."

This particular version of "Company" has its imperfections, including an occasionally faltering orchestra, out-of-synch choreography, and several weak voices. And because the production aspires to the quality of an Off-Broadway show, these problems may be all the more noticeable. But it certainly merits a trip to our Massachusetts neighbor for a "refined" cultural event, and perhaps a few pointers on life.

Scott Lichtman->