DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - April 27, 2007

Role Players 'Putting It Together' with pizzazz

New production explores love issues to Sondheim's toe-tapping music

by Natalie O'Neill

In life, a serious discussion with a lover about your passionless relationship would never take place in the form of song. With the conversation backed up by a punchy piano, it would be hard to keep a straight face.

But that's exactly what makes Stephen Sondheim's musical "Putting It Together" fascinating. It allows for an amusing and unexpectedly emotionally rich avenue for exploring those same old issues.

The musical, put on by Danville Role Players Ensemble, follows two couples - one young and one old - as they bask in both the magnificence and the monotony of love.

"Could I bury my rage/ With a boy half your age/ In the grass? Bet your ass," belts a delightfully cynical Marcia Hetzler, who plays the "The Older Woman," in her solo "Could I leave you?"

As the older couple copes with their dying sex life and struggles to fill the communication void with ideas like "a country house," or "getting a dog," they are juxtaposed with a young couple's carnal attraction, blissful infatuation and overall optimism. As one love is seemly fading away, another is freshly born and flourishing.

Set at an all-night black tie party, the musical numbers are pasted carefully together from 14 of Sondheim's past productions to form an entirely new plot. The new characters struggle with their own internal conflicts, separate from past musicals.

Sondheim, who is arguably the leading writer of musicals in the last 50 years, breaks through gender stereotypes in his portrayals of both couples. He seems to note that having a wandering eye, a fear of commitment and feelings of jealousy are two-way streets - not limited to just "the cheating husband" or "the clingy girlfriend."

Hetzler's believable portrayal of a sarcastic, burnt out wife was honest and sharp, prompting laughs in songs like "Ladies Who Lunch," a hilariously fake toast to wealthy and passive debutante women. Her enchanting voice, which possesses an almost an opera-like quality packs as much power as her character's bitterness.

"Here's to the girls who just watch/Aren't they the best/When they get depressed/It's a bottle of Scotch," she wails, displaying what seems to be a competitive feeling toward the women upon whom her husband's wandering eye has fallen.

True, a couple of songs that celebrate love, like "Unworthy of Your Love" from "Assassins" (1990), borderline on cliché - with overused phrases like, "I would swim oceans, I would move mountains, I would do anything for you." But the play glides quickly enough around overly-mushy sentiments and, in a blink, it is back onto the frankness of relationship dynamics. The audience doesn't miss a beat.

Credit, in part goes to Director Kathryn G. McCarty of Role Players, who secures the solidity and believability of the plot by adding subtle nuances in staging. This both foreshadows conflicts and ties them up resolutely.

Moving from light humor into complicated feelings puts this Role Player's production more into the category of "dramedy," than perhaps most audience members and musical fans are used to seeing.

The play doesn't fit neatly into one compartment - romance, drama or comedy - and that's what keeps it from falling into the formula romantic comedies are often trapped inside.

As the play so cleverly points out in the end, taking a risk and being in it for the long haul are what love and relationships are all about.

Whether you're a play-goer who enjoys delving into the psychology of love or just tapping your foot to a song, Role Players production of "Putting It Together" is an avenue worth exploring.

Other cast members include Lillian Askew as "The Younger Woman," William Giammona as "The Younger Man," John Hetzler as "The Older Man," and Mark Enea as "The Observer." Production staff includes Musical Director Joan Cifarelli, Choreographer Renae Klein, Stage Manager Dale Rosen, Props/Assistant Stage Manager Lisa Cambra, Set/Lighting Designer Mike Maio, Master Carpenter Loren Hoselton, Spotlight Operator/Crew Joel Stefani and publicity by Pat and Chris Kenber.

The production runs through May 12. Tickets are $24 for adults; $22 for seniors and students; $18 on Thursdays; and can be purchased at www.danvilletheatre.com or by call 314-3400.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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