An Opinionated and Irreverent Revue of the Differences Between the Original 1970 and Revised 1996 Scripts of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Musical Comedy.
How can you miss it? Isn't it clear?
In the original script, before listing the musical numbers, the authors write: "THE SCENE: New York City, NOW." Yes, that's their caps, not mine. The new script has no such line. Nothing. We're now assumed to understand that the show is set in New York City (although it is referred to later) and that it takes place NOW. Or does it? We'll come back to this in a moment. First...
The Wedding Breakfast is virtually unaltered. Amy couldn't be improved upon even if Shakespeare and Shaw were collaborating together (with Simon in the wings as script doctor). Act One does have a new ending, however, with the inclusion of Marry Me a Little, the song Sondheim replaced with Happily Ever After, which was then replaced with Being Alive. This does more than give Robert one more song to sing. It skews Robert's entire character from a man who is simply tallying up the pros and cons of marriage, someone who "always looks like he's keeping score," to a man who is genuinely torn by his desire to marry and his need to have a good reason to do so. The emotional stakes are raised here.
Consider the late 1960's, and what had happened to sex. With the invention of the Pill, women were absolved from any need to be careful when having sex. They could technically have sex as often as they wanted, without having to fear the consequence of an unwanted child. They could have sex with as many men as they wanted. Men like Robert were thrilled! This is exactly what they had always wanted, right?
Well, maybe. It is certainly the situation in which Robert finds himself, with all the freedom that his married male friends wish they had. But this freedom is strangely unsatisfying. People need relationships, and committed ones at that. They need marriage, of some sort. They can be divorced, as Susan and Peter become, yet still be committed. They can live without benefit of marriage, as Amy and Paul have done for years, and still be married.
Far from being plotless, Company is about the emotional and intellectual journey that Robert must take to become whole. He begins with a simple question: "Are you ever sorry you got married?" This develops into the desire he expresses in Someone is Waiting, where he declares "I'll find you if I can." It continues with his listing of what marriage could be like in Marry Me a Little, on through the unsatisfactory and unsatisfying night with April, and concludes with his final discovery of the reasons for committing oneself to marriage in Being Alive. The addition of the song, the addition of the intellectual step (as opposed to the emotional one he takes at the end), improves the storyline, and thus improves the show.
During the disco scene, in the middle of Robert's long ramble about rich friends, depression, drinking, and good times, there is a very important line change. In the original play, he says: "Even though I am a product of my generation, I still do not smoke." In the revision, the line reads: "I am a product of my generation and I do not smoke." That simple change, the dropping of "even though" and "still", is perhaps the biggest change of all, the one that admits that 1970 is not 1995. It is like that one small pebble at the bottom of a hill, where if you move it, every pebble and stone and rock and boulder becomes dislodged and tumbles down. It is the change that gives the strongest argument against updating this play.
If Robert is 35 years old in 1995, that means that Joanne is also 35 or thereabouts in 1995. Way back in Scene One, with the answering machine intro, she says, "Well, I only hope I look as good as you when I'm your age." But Joanne's behavior is not that of a woman of the "Boomer" generation, which is what she would have to be if she is 35 in 1995! If she is a Boomer, why is she insisting that he smoke? She isn't just smoking on her own, she's insisting that Robert join her and make his "first compromise." She certainly wouldn't hold the opinion that "smoking may be the only thing that separates us from the lower life forms." That's just not the mind-set of a woman born at the tail end of the Boomer generation. Nor would she be drinking vodka stingers. She would be drinking martinis. In 1995 one would be hard pressed to find a bartender who even knew how to make a vodka stinger.
What about April's behavior, back where Robert takes her to bed? She doesn't even hesitate and ask for some kind of protection from AIDS and other STDs! I can understand someone in her teenage years lacking the education and believing those diseases only strike older people, but April is hardly a teenager. She's a working woman. For that matter, it hardly makes sense that, in this era of corporate layoffs, she would blithely skip her job for sex, no matter how great the man is in bed.
Women of 35 do not engage in karate games with their husbands in 1995. That would be domestic violence. Women of 35 (and their mates) do not experiment with drugs in 1995. They got over that in college. Time for some generation theory. A man aged 35 in 1995 would have been born in 1960, what social theoreticians have decided was the very last year of the Boomers. He would have benefited from the parenting of the previous two generations, the "GI" Generation that came of age in the Depression and World War II, and the "Silent" Generation that came of age in the '50s and early '60's. He would have had lots of good schooling, and lots of money spent making sure he had every advantage his parents didn't have when they were children. He would have memories of Viet Nam playing nightly on his television (the elder members of his generation being the ones who fought in that war), and would have come of age in the late '70's and early '80's. His was a blessed generation in many ways, not put down the way the Silent generation was. Because of his blessings, his is also an arrogant generation, an arrogance that has bewildered the GIs and the Silents, and earned the disdain of the generation to follow, "Generation X." This is not Robert's generation.
On the other hand, a man aged 35 in 1970 would have been born in 1935, smack in the middle of the Silent generation. A man born in 1935 would have memories of World War II, and would have come of age in the '50's and early '60's. The generation before his, the GIs, was a generation of heroes, and they never let the Silent generation forget this fact. The generation that followed his, the Baby Boomers, rebelled against the stodgy GIs, and never let the Silent generation forget it. "Don't trust anyone over 30" they cried, conveniently confusing the two older generations as one.
As a result, the Silent generation was stuck between a hard attitude and a bunch of rockers. They saw their elders as the great achievers, and tried to catch up. They saw the younger generation having this wonderful time, and tried to catch up. It never worked out for them. They always had to compromise.
This is the generation Robert is a part of. It is the generation George Furth and Stephen Sondheim are a part of.
Sondheim and Furth wrote Company in 1970, when Sondheim was 40 and Furth was 38. They are Robert's contemporaries, and were writing of the world they saw around them. What they produced was a polished gem, reflecting and refracting their world in a wonderful, sparkling way. If Company still seems contemporary today, it is because much of that world is still with us. But much of that world has gone, or changed, or been replaced.
I love much of this rewrite. Furth has taken the gem and buffed it and given it a better setting. But the gem itself remains very much a part of 1970, and 1970 remains very much a part of Company. I'll live with the anachronism of the answering machine.
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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