Night Music Delight
by Jessica Rosenberg

As 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, Sondheim’s version of a bedroom farce, is perhaps his only work truly appropriate to a young cast. And while suffering through some technical glitches, this weekend’s performance shows off some new talent in Oberlin’s 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 Eggerman’s life, it throws his ‘marriage’ into confusion. Toss in the usual spate of jealous spouses and repressed children and an enjoyable evening’s 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, Eggerman’s 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 doesn’t 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 Sondheim’s 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 can’t 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 Potter’s 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 play’s 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.

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