Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Last Five Years
Daniel Conway has designed a unit set that incorporates both the literalpacking crates, a bed, a desk, a swivel chairand the metaphoricalan airborne swirl of sheets of paper and clock faces. Time is the central image in Brown's story: Jamie (Gardiner), an ambitious novelist, starts his journey when he meets the woman he loves, while Cathy (Weaver), a struggling actress, looks back after the relationship has crumbled. (It sounds much more complicated than it plays.)
Brown presents his characters without flinching: cocky Jamie has the luck and the talent to succeed with his first novel, while insecure Cathy keeps going to auditions and ends up performing at a seedy summer theater in Ohio. Repeated hearings of the score bring out how cleverly the composer uses motifs as foreshadowing: the same tune turns up in both doleful and buoyant guises, and the same words take on deeper resonances when their context changes. (One note: the work was written in 2001 and should be performed in period, as when Cathy tells of seeing Jamie's book on display "at a Borders in Kentucky.")
Both Weaver and Gardiner have worked at Signature before, and Posner is skilled in handling the small dramas that together make up the larger picture. He keeps the actors moving on the MAX stage, whether standing on the bed or sitting together on a "bench" made of cardboard cartons. They respond with the kind of inspired interplay that sometimes makes the viewer feel like a voyeur.
Pianist and musical director William Yanesh conducts five other musicians who understand the ins and outs of Brown's score, which ranges stylistically from tortured internal monologue to broad humor.