Connecting Is Hard To Do: Marry Me A Little Opens at the Randall Theatre
Performing arts companies must strike a balance between safety and adventure. If they choose musicals, symphonies, or dances which are popular and familiar—Music Man or Mozart or Tchaikovsky—they might win crowds, but sacrifice artistic integrity and performers’ motivation. If they take the cutting edge route—Lorca or Shostakovich or Graham—yes, perhaps the company will be creatively fulfilled, but the box office cash drawer less so. Robin Downward, the Artistic Director of Medford’s Randall Theatre, wrestles with this question every season.
“A successful theater has to have its pulse on what people are interested in seeing,” he reflects. Choosing the plays for the Randall, a non-profit, community-oriented theater on that basis “is one of the hardest parts for me.”
His many years working in the private sector have helped him keep the Randall seats largely full and avoid joining the ignominious company of bold, experimental, and eventually failed non-profit theater companies.
“Rather than trying to educate the theater public, we give them what they want.” In a similar vein, the theatre’s casual atmosphere itself creates a more accessible environment, as well as the Randall’s “Pay-What-You-Want” policy.
The same dynamic—choose a safe course or take a risk—drives Marry Me A Little, the Randall’s next production, but in the context of romantic relationships. A young couple, acquainted with each other, yet barricaded in their adjacent New York City apartments on a Saturday night, long for connection and its potential rewards—affection, friendship, genuine love, sex… Yet, they fear, as the title suggests, plunging into the commitment of marriage.
Although Marry Me A Little is a well-established show featuring the songs of Stephen Sondheim, one of America’s greatest composers and lyricists, it takes an unusual approach. The relationship between the two characters, played by Haley Forsyth and Benjamin Linder O’Neill, unfolds entirely through song. As Forsyth, who is also directing the play, comments, “you have to build a love story out of a random-seeming collection of songs.” She continues, “it’s a one-of-a-kind show. There’s no script, only the lyrics and the music.”
For Forsyth, this staging makes excellent sense. “In musicals, (at the point where dialogue is not enough), characters always turn to the passion that comes with singing. No other means of expression will suffice.” With such a small cast, Forsyth has also had the freedom to allow for greater collaboration between herself, O’Neill, and the technical crew. “Every time something changes—with the space, with the lighting or the sound—we find an ever better option.” It also helps, she explains with a laugh, that she “has the luxury of knowing what the director wants from me” for her role.
In fact, Forsyth has found herself taking greater risks as an actor than she might have under a separate director. “I have the freedom to make a choice” in how she plays her part. “It’s very liberating as an artist to have full control of a role and a show.” She continues, again laughing, “it’s also a little bit terrifying,” just like committing to a relationship.
Downward echoes Forsyth’s thoughts. “The great thing about this musical, aside from the music, is that it is open for interpretation. There is an opportunity for the director to make it her own.” The focus on the two potential lovers, and the intensity of their expression, elevate the play from an entertaining musical to an exploration of deeper emotions, of the edge between opening one’s heart to another or keeping it safely protected within the literal walls of one’s studio apartment.
Speaking of a willingness to take risks, the Randall Theatre recently announced a partnership with Jacksonville’s Calvary Church to stage many of this season’s shows at the church. Long-time Randall patrons will be rewarded with an upgraded but still distinctly Randall experience.
Marry Me a Little
7 pm Fri & Sat, 1 pm, Sunday, March 17 – April 9
Randall Theatre, 10 Third Street, Medford
$18, reserved seating. “Pay-What-You-Want,” at the door.