Sunday, November 7, 2010

MARRY ME A LITTLE • Citilites Theatre

Stephen Sondheim isn't one to shirk away from addressing complicated emotions.  In fact, he usually looks them dead in the face with an insightful honesty, tempered with humor and wit.  So many of his songs examine that human tendency toward connection, and the fact that there aren't always happy endings.

These themes run throughout Citilites' production of MARRY ME A LITTLE, directed by Seth Ward Pyatt.  This one-act musical revue uses a collection of Sondheim's “trunk songs”.  Some were cut from shows like FOLLIES, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, COMPANY and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.  Others were written for shows that never caught on.

So, we've got these two lonely New York singles -- a Man (Scott Tripp) who's moving out of an apartment and a Woman (Laura Ernst ) who's moving in.  All of the action takes place within the space of one small apartment, and although the staging has these two sharing the same space, they never actually meet.  They do occasionally kind of play off of each other during their duets, but remain unaware of the other one.  As they obliviously cross each other's paths, one packing and the other unpacking, looking at old pictures and ripping up others, they spend their Saturday night musing about their shared loneliness and longing.  A neat setting in which to place these songs that at the core deal with modern romance and missed opportunities.  

Laura Ernst (Woman) and Scott Tripp (Man).
Photo credit: Michael C. Daft
With no dialogue, the characters are revealed primarily through the lyrics.  Tricky.  A lot of the songs like, "Can That Boy Foxtrot" or "Uptown, Downtown" (with energetic performances by Ernst and Tripp) have enough individual context to stand on their own, but when 17 of them are strung together, there's not always a lot of cohesion -- except for that distinctive Sondheim sound.  If you're a die-hard fan though, this probably won't matter much.

The music itself is also tricky.  Sondheim really doesn't do a ton of "hummable" tunes.  Beautiful? Yes.  But also unpredictable, complex and well… tricky.  Ernst seemed a little more comfortable navigating her songs than Tripp did, who seemed a little timid.  I enjoyed them best in their quieter moments which were played honestly and subtly.

The stage at the Gaslight is on the smaller side, and though the set by Nick Moramarco and GP Hunsaker was a detailed realization of a NYC apartment, there was a lot of stuff up there, and with the actors having to maneuver through it all, at times it seemed a little crowded. 

This is a challenging piece to pull off, and even though it doesn't seem to have completely gelled quite yet (I saw it on the second night), it's a show worth checking out.  The overall production puts you in the perfect spot for an evening of Sondheim exploring his favorite emotional terrain.


MARRY ME A LITTLE

Lyrics/music by Stephen Sondheim
Conceived by Craig Lucas and Norman René
Directed by Seth Ward Pyatt
Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through November 21 | tickets: $15 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

Cast:
Laura Ernst (Woman) and Scott Tripp (Man).

Creative:
Scenic design by Nick Moramarco and GP Hunsaker; lighting design by Steven J. Miller; choreography by Cindy Duggan; accompanist, Nick Moramarco; stage manager, Katie Donnelly.

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