Boyd Gaines

James Clow

Photos by Carol Rosegg

The Sondheim Review
Vol. 2, No. 3
Winter 1996
2 Roberts try to sort out Bobby's needs
Robert, in Company, has been called a cipher, a blank character who simply reacts.  An audience sometimes forgets that the play takes place in Robert's mind as he is about to enter his surprise birthday party, and that he is remembering, or imagining, each scene from the past.  At the end of the evening, he is changed by what he remembers.
Obviously, the role presents a major challenge for an actor.  TSR talked to Boyd Gaines, who created the role in the recent New York revival and James Clow, the understudy who went on for Gaines some 65 times when Gaines was suffering from a throat virus.
Boyd Gaines: "I approached the role like any role, gathering from the text, from what people say about Robert, and what he says about himself.  And then trying to decide what Robert's needs are, the needs that propel him through the evening.  There is meant to be a lot of contradictory things - about marriage, about relationships.  All the information in 'Marry Me a Little' is qualified.
"What clearly is propelling Robert through this journey, these recollections and imaginings of the events with his friends and girl friends, is the sorting out of his present state, which is that he's alone.  Attending to friends is an avoidance of being committed himself, and it's kind of death.  Being happy is his imagination about himself.
"In the last terrace scene Bobby tells Peter: 'You know me.  I'm always happy.' That's a defense, a denial about his own pain.  His friends know him to be always cheerful, and he's always there to help them, but he's desperately unhappy.
"It's only in the last scene, with Joanne, that he mentions that he feels low.   It's the first and only time that he says how he really feels.  Being 'happy' is only a cover to keep the pain at bay.
"I don't feel, at the end, that he's renouncing his friends.  In 'Being Alive' the voices of his friends are urging him to go forward.  They're very positive forces. I think Robert absolutely loves his friends.  He realizes that they want the best for him as well.
"He walks away from his birthday party, and his friends accept that.  His relationship with his friends is never going to be the same again because when you marry, or you enter into a relationship, your relations with your friends will change.   Bobby will never again be that third party.  so it is the love of his friends that propels him to choose."
James Clow: "I felt it was important for me (as Robert) to learn something with each couple, to carry me to the end, the 'Being Alive.'   I wondered why he would be at the heart of each scene, so besides playing the scene and being in the moment, I had to be in a deeper moment.
"In the course of the evening, I think he had a different look on what relationships were about, instead of being so compartmentalized.  It was realizing that a relationship can be too close, too deep, not safe, the negative parts, but then to realize: You've not only got the tough times, but the comforting times.  The tough times in some ways become comforting, and the comforting tough.
"But at the end, it's time to move on.  The way this was directed, it was time to be thankful and appreciative, and to love these people and the gifts they gave him, and the gifts he gave them.  But at that point he thinks: "The only way I'm going to find what I want is to sepatate hyself from these people.  He's grown in the fact that he can separate, but he has more growing up to do.  He's taken that scary step of change.   I hope he finds a happy ending - or happy endings or beginnings.
"I think the important thing for me was to discover that he thought he was happy, and all of a sudden he realizes his life is not fulfilled, rich, complete.  I don't know if a relationship is what he needs, or if it's intimacy within a relationship.  I think at that moment, it's a partner.  But it could also be about changing the way he is with people, about being vulnerable, admitting he needs help, getting closer to people."
Permission to reprint article and photos received from The Sondheim Review. For more information on Stephen Sondeim and Company please visit the following sites: The Sondheim Review Online; Company; Stephen Sondheim Stage

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