Marry Me A Little Packs A Lot
In bringing Craig Lucas and Norman René’s stylish Marry Me A Little Stephen Sondheim revue to the stage at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, artistic director Christopher Ostrom is taking a chance. Perhaps that’s what he’s known for; his most recent success was a play called Straight White Men in an area where a good percentage of theater-goers are women, gay, or both. In each case, the move is daring, and it works. In the midst of a national holiday that seems, as one social media pundit would have it, like attending a birthday party for someone in hospice, Ostrom has allowed us to go through the “less scary” door into Sondheim’s world where the only issue is whether or not this couple will find forever happiness.
And maybe we can all use a little of that.
Two young single strangers, a woman and a man, are alone in their studio apartments on a Saturday night. Each passes the time singing—mostly sweet songs about their dreams and fantasies of a life that might not, in fact, be lived alone. Carefully curated songs from the lesser-known and possibly lesser-appreciated Sondheim canon lead the journey through their evening and give clues as to whether—should they in fact ever meet—these two could ever indeed find true happiness as a couple.
One has to start with Ostrom’s own set design, with its cityscape background of brick façades and fire escapes; these are young people just starting out—the woman, in fact, is still unpacking moving boxes—and not for them are more sweeping views of Manhattan. The set captures both the smallness of their worlds and underlines their yearning to escape it, a desire immediately expressed through the first song, Two Fairy Tales. The studio spaces mirror each other and emphasize their differences, perhaps less in terms of personality and more in terms of gender (and that emphasis continues in every detail, as she eats Chinese takeaway while he opts for pizza and beer).
Duel dating apps provide an update to Sondheim’s expressions of loneliness and longing, and as the revue progresses it’s clear that this surface similarity is just that; each thinks they shouldn’t have to be alone on a Saturday night in New York, but neither is willing to do anything but bemoan their situation and only imagine changing it. Still, listening to complaints issued via Sondheim absolutely delivers an evening well spent!
Almost from the start, their differences are apparent. The title piece, a song of unrealistic expectations, allows her to express conventional desires—a home, children, a committed forever; his response is to imagine being “happily ever after in hell.”
The most upbeat and, frankly, fun song in the revue follows, as they imagine a day out playing golf, fun and giggly moments not taking the game very seriously while cementing their own imagined comfort level together. But these are in fact just moments, as—inevitably it seems—each finally decides in that in the end it just won’t work out.
Brittany Rolfs is peerless as the unnamed woman. Her voice positively shimmers, equally at home weaving in and out of her stage partner’s as they perform duets as it is breathlessly beautiful and soaring on its own. (N.B. She’s performing at Tin Pan Alley in Provincetown all summer, so make sure you get out to hear her.)
Sam Perwin’s nameless man provides stark contrast to Rolfs. He is impressively tall, dressed in dark clothes to her pastels; he uses his body gracefully and, to his credit, sparingly. There are no extraneous gestures, no underscoring the drama; he allows his voice to do that. One can see him changing, even growing up a little as he moves through the stages of a relationship, finally admitting that even the dashing knight of his imagination may have ended up not rescuing the princess.
Musical director and pianist Kevin Quill keeps both the flow—revues like this often have troubles with continuity—and energy high; my only regret was that he didn’t join the actors on stage for the curtain call. (You can hear him, too, in Provincetown this summer at Tin Pan Alley and the Crown & Anchor; it’s a very Outer-Cape production!)
In many ways the revue pokes fun at the pressing need many people feel to become part of a couple, to receive identification through being half of a whole, to have experiences validated through someone else’s eyes. But for fans of Sondheim, and particularly of some of his lesser-known works, this evening is a jewel, one of those brief shining moments at which he excels, moments that bring us into our own lives and psyches and remind us of connections found and connections lost… and, most of all, of why we all love Sondheim in the first place.
Make sure you see this show. It will make you sigh and laugh and maybe even believe a little in the possibility of love. As only Sondheim—and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater—can.
images: Michael & Suz Karchmer