On Stage: Becoming Marta in Company

Getting under Marta’s skin and discovering what makes her tick was an intimidating challenge that has left me forever changed.

This past February I had the pleasure of playing Marta in Stephen Sondheim & George Furth’s concept musical, Company.  Marta marks the second Sondheim role I’ve played and coincidentally the second time I have played a character who is roughly my own age.  (I’m usually type-cast a middle aged “Jewish mother”, so the opportunity to play “age-appropriate slut” was like a breath of fresh air.)

Kathy, April, and Marta sing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy", a Andrew's Sisters send-up
Above: Kathy (Vanessa Miller), April (Melissa Pieja), and Marta (me) singing “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”  Below: an excerpt from the second verse of “Another Hundred People”

The production, directed by Sharon Veselic, centers around a design concept highlighting a subway station.  This idea particularly resonates with my character, whose featured song, “Another Hundred People” describes the many ways that strangers come to New York City to mix and mingle as they fumble to make connections with each other.  The play itself follows Bobby, a 35 year old single man who is the last single man standing among his group of friends.  Bobby struggles to decide if he is ready to be married and whether he wants to be truly connected to another human being.  His friends advise him of the pitfalls and benefits of both being married and single as we watch Bobby navigate relationships with three very different girlfriends, one of whom I played.

Getting under Marta’s skin and discovering what makes her tick was an intimidating challenge that has left me forever changed.  As I mentioned before, sexy is not the first instinct that I’m used to playing, so initially I began exploring Marta’s voraciousness for life.  She wants to experience everyone and everything she encounters, which resonated with me more than her brash sexuality.  Having ended a long term relationship in the last year, I found myself reinvesting in the relationships that mean the most to me that I had neglected.  I wanted to savor the experience my friends and my family were having together and I continue to push myself to keep growing and exploring the different avenues that my life can take me now that I’m not tied down to one person.  That aspect of Marta, I completely grasped–the need to make your freedom count while you have the time and ability to be free.

Marta confides to Bobby that how relaxed your ass directly correlates to how much you belong in New York City
Marta demonstrating to Bobby (Matt Liptak) how uptight he is.

While the play text gives very few clues as to Marta’s backstory, I inferred that she is not a native New Yorker from a scene  in which Marta says, “You wanna know why I came to New York? I came because New York is the center of the universe and that’s where I want to be.”  With that clue in mind, I found it imperative to explore Marta’s relationship with New York before going further with the role.

Personally, I find New York to be a wonderful city to visit, but I think living in Manhattan would completely overwhelm me.  I’m an extroverted introvert, but I’m still an introvert at heart.  I do prefer living in a city to the suburbs, but the cramped crowdedness of NYC sets off my claustrophobia.  The idea of claustrophobia is completely foreign to Marta who enjoys pushing, and to some degree, invading people’s personal boundaries.  She lovingly tells Bobby, “in this city, every son of a bitch is my new best friend.”

At first I struggled  to understand why Marta was so attracted to Bobby. …Ultimately, I came to an understanding that Bobby’s aloofness intrigues Marta.

Her unstoppable hunger to soak up every ounce of the experience of living in New York makes her an interesting foil to Bobby, who can’t quite decide if he wants to fully connect with anyone.  Conversely Marta wants to connect with everyone–mentally, emotionally, and physically.  In order to get into that mindset, I had to embrace my extroverted side.  In rehearsals, I found that the first way to break that extroverted barrier was through physical work.  Initially, I explored the idea of Marta physically consuming the environment around her.  I would find ways to entangle myself on railing, drape myself over a chair,  a even literally kiss the ground as I worked through the blocking of my main scene with Bobby.  While this was a really beneficial step in the process of getting into Marta’s body, it led to a lot of over-acting.  While, a lot of that initial work did not end up in the final product, it was an important step for my process, because it gave me permission to be very physical and set the precedent with my cast that I take big risks.  It also was a step in getting me out of my head and into my body.

Bobby stands cross armed as the girlfriends drape themselves over him. Promo photo.
Bobby and his girlfriends (Left to right: Marta, Kathy, and April)

From that physical devouring of space and architecture, I turned my focus to exploring touch between Marta and the characters around her.  Initially this exploration came with Bobby.  At first I struggled  to understand why Marta was so attracted to Bobby.  She does not seem like the girl who wants to settle down with one man the way the other girlfriends, April and Kathy, do.  So why keep pursuing Bobby if there are plenty of fish in the sea, especially when you’re as extroverted and interested in meeting people as Marta is?  Ultimately, I came to an understanding that Bobby’s aloofness intrigues Marta.  She tells him in a moment of awkward pause in their conversation, “You always make me feel like I got the next line.  What is it with you?”  She may not want Bobby forever, but she wants to fully understand him before she moves on and that aloofness presents itself as the primary obstacle.  Exploring that exchange physically was very interesting.  There was a moment in the opening number where each girlfriend was able to make physical contact with Bobby before he gets swept away by his friends.  That  first moment of contact followed immediately by it’s elusion was a metaphor for their relationship that became very interesting to explore as an actor.  As a part of Veselic’s concept the actors never (or hardly ever) left the stage.  We were always present in Bobby’s mind, even if we were not technically physically present in the scene featured.  As I listened from my perch onto of the subway platform, I found myself drawing physically closer to any character whose “vibe” would turn Marta on.  Keeping in mind that I could not leave my perch I had to support that shift of movement either through adjusting my balance or leaning on part of the set.  That interplay between physical touch and spatial relationship to the architecture surrounding me was most prominent in scene six, which features “Another Hundred People.”

Playing Marta has been a major point of growth in my personal and professional life.  I was able to explore a character type that I rarely get the opportunity to play and I got to explore an aspect of myself that has helped me to find a little more of the person that I want to be.

Marta manipulates the architecture during Another Hundred People
Launching myself into the third and final verse of “Another Hundred People.”

The song sandwiches similar scenes Bobby shares with April, Kathy and Marta.  In this parallel set-up we see Bobby on dates in Central Park with each girlfriend.  As one date wraps up, Marta picks up the story telling with another verse of “Another Hundred People.”  Since the song only links the scenes thematically, it became my job to interpret how Marta’s narrative connects with Bobby’s experience on each date.  For me, the song became a progression of how Marta goes from “newbie” in NYC to confident New Yorker, which is where she begins her date with Bobby.  Each verse was a step in that journey; the first verse became a reflection of Marta’s arrival in New York.  She is curious, excited, observant, and enthralled by her observations.  After I paused to watch the scene following this verse between April & Bobby and began to launch into the second verse of the song, I became a little more cocky and sarcastic in my tone.  My movements became less “spastically” curious and more efficient and direct.  Whereas in the previous verse I explored the entire floor of the stage around the bench at center, here I made an almost direct cross to the opposite side of the stage to watch (and judge) Bobby’s date with Kathy, the girlfriend who he friend-zoned.  The final verse begins with a musical notation of mezzo piano and gradually grows form there.  Because in this verse I sing the entire song a second time, it became necessary to differentiate it from the first two in meaning.  Why repeat something you’ve already done before?  My instinct was to play this as a response to Bobby telling me the story of his date with Kathy, as if I was hearing him tell me it as I, the actor observed it. I imagined that Bobby had posed the story to me as though he wanted to know my opinion on that elusive idea of “the one,” and perhaps he had missed his chance.  Therefore, the final verse segued my compassionate explanation about how there’s always more people, more fish in the sea so to speak, into my flirtatious banter that sought to ensnare Bobby into my world.  You can watch the final verse in performance below.

During the biggest scene Bobby and I had together, touch became extremely important.  Matt Liptak, who played Bobby, was an incredible actor to work with.  Being more introverted, I’m always nervous about touching other people without really knowing them, but Matt made that part of the process very easy for me.  Especially because Marta became very handsy.  Having him to collaborate with on this scene definitely eased that tension and allowed me more freedom to play.  The touch in this scene set up clearly to the audience that sexual tension and physical repartee between Marta and Bobby.  There’s a bookend scene in Act Two in which we see Marta and Bobby on a double date with another couple in the show.  Bobby and Marta enter the scene arm in arm, but in a moment of honest reaction when Marta does not disagree with the fact that Bobby is unhappy, that contact ends and never comfortably settles.

Playing Marta has been a major point of growth in my personal and professional life.  I was able to explore a character type that I rarely get the opportunity to play and I got to explore an aspect of myself that has helped me to find a little more of the person that I want to be.

Promo photo of Bobby and the girlfriends

I also got the opportunity to work as a choreographer on this show and that presented a whole new challenge professionally, as I’ve never choreographed a Sondheim show.  Many thanks to the cast, crew and artistic team of this wonderful production.

Click the links or the article below to read the preview and reviews of McLean Community Player’s production of Company.

Review: ‘Company’ at McLean Community Players