by Jessica Rosenberg
Oberlin tries to work its way through the entire corpus of Stephen
Sondheim, it has finally hit upon a musical that can be successfully
performed by students. A Little Night Music, Sondheims version
of a bedroom farce, is perhaps his only work truly appropriate to
a young cast. And while suffering through some technical glitches,
this weekends performance shows off some new talent in Oberlins
musical theater world.
The story is as light and fluffy as one could wish from a fin de
siécle sex comedy, and junior first-time director Lev Rosen
does well not to milk it for every possible innuendo. It centers
around aging lawyer Frederick Eggerman (sophomore Bacilio Mendez)
and his new wife, Anne (sophomore Erin Farrell), who is as perfect
in every respect as a trophy wife can be, except for her refusal
to sleep with her increasingly frustrated husband. When an old love,
actress Desiree (junior Dawn Burroughs), suddenly reappears in Eggermans
life, it throws his marriage into confusion. Toss in
the usual spate of jealous spouses and repressed children and an
enjoyable evenings escapism emerges.
As always, top kudos goes to those who best combine acting chops
and singing ability. First-year Austin Clark stands out in this
category as he amazingly resists the urge to overplay Heinrich,
Eggermans grown son, making him unhappy but not neurotic to
a ridiculous degree. As an actor, Mendez seems to have been conceived,
born and raised on stage; the audience shares his comfort level.
Whenever he is there, things are under control. Junior Valerie Potter
gets all the best lines, and she doesnt waste them, nor does
first-year Julia Goldstein as her granddaughter, a small role, but
one that shows off her poise and promise.
The strongest stand-alone voices belong to Burroughs and junior
Lisl Walsh, who are equally skilled in singing as they are in acting.
Some of the supporting cast and the chorus needs work, vocally and
otherwise. The shortage of male actors on campus does take its toll,
so does Sondheims poor conception of the chorus. It serves
as memory or internal monologue for the characters, its lines witty
but its purpose unclear and mostly unnecessary.
The plot is, as previously mentioned, more like an omelet than serious
theater, but Sondeim being Sondheim, he cant just leave it
at that. Ironic self-awareness is his hallmark, and wonderful moments
of serious consideration creep in, from Every Day a Little
Death to Potters final speech, all of which question
the seeming shallowness of plot and characters. The obligatory happy
ending seems almost a disappointment, given the depth the score
and book occasionally find amidst the bare bones of the farce. Farce
itself is the target of Send in the Clowns, one of the
plays most moving moments. At these times the audience gets
the idea that it is watching people, not types, and A Little Night
Music goes from pure entertainment to a thought-provoking evening.