THE CHARACTER OF BOBBY IN COMPANY
by June Abernathy
With the recent revivals of Company in NYC and now London, many old debates and a few new ones have surfaced regarding Bobby. Hal Prince has said that Bobby was, at least originally, a device used to link a series of vignettes about marriage. As originally directed, the whole evening is a "flashback" on the occasion of Bobby's 35th Birthday, and as such, happens in his head. Although we see everything through Bobby's point of view, or perhaps because we do, we don't get much opportunity to examine HIS feelings and motivations in detail. One reviewer (Mel Gussow of The New York Times) felt that Bobby's part was "intentionally underwritten" and therefore, "especially difficult to play".
Sondheim has that the whole score is "Brechtian" in nature - the songs standing outside the action and commenting, rather than being born within the scene from a character's intense emotion. This can make the show, (and Bobby) seem very cold and remote. Exactly what to do with Bobby was evidently as much a question with the creators as it has remained for fans. Perhaps the most telling evidence of this is the three separate numbers written for Bobby's final "anthem" - "Marry Me a Little", "Happily Ever After" and finally, "Being Alive". It is in that song, many contend, that Bobby finally becomes a character - finally establishes a point of view. Both Sondheim and Prince have said that "Being Alive" is not the end they wanted, but Prince knew that the show needed some kind of resolution at the end, and if the book wasn't going to provide it, then the score would have to. Of course, in the recent revivals, "Marry Me a Little" has been reinserted, but at the end of Act I - to sort of define a halfway point for Bobby. What this also does is to make Bobby more of a three dimensional and realized character much earlier in the play. It almost forces an actor and director to weight Bobby's character with more importance than in the original production.
The actor who originates a role often has a great effect on what the character becomes, and it is interesting to note that the character was conceived with Tony Perkins in mind, developed with Dean Jones in the role, and refined with Larry Kert. Three quite different takes on the role, which can only add to the trouble everyone has in defining it.
One of the central questions in an audience member's mind is "Why won't/can't Bobby commit?" Perhaps in the 90's the answer seems obvious, and he doesn't seem so unusual, but in the 70's, to be anti-marriage and commitment implied that there was something "wrong" with you. Audiences and critics began inventing reasons - that Bobby was a closet homosexual was the most obvious. This would not work, of course, since such a pat reason for Bobby's doubts and fears would negate much of the message of the play. Sondheim and all of the original creators have repeatedly said that this isn't the case, but the rumor continues. Apparently, early drafts of the show had a scene where Bobby mentions past liasons with men to Peter, who promptly propositions him, and is turned down. One can imagine that the scene was originally there to give Bobby the opportunity to examine, and remain unfulfilled by, ALL forms of romantic committment. One can also imagine several dozen reasons why the scenes may have been cut, but the least inflammatory and probably most true would be that to drop a bomb like that without examining it would be too distracting, and that examining it would pull the play off course. The new British production is said to be restoring this scene. We'll have to wait and see what comes of it.
There has been a trend in the more recent revivals to humanize Bobby more, making the show more about him than about his friends. While this was not the original intention, it is certainly a valid choice, and one which allows for some fresh perspective on an old show. "And that's what it's all about, isn't it . . ."
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