The Last Five Years
I saw and liked a version of the 90-minute swift-moving piece years ago; it is still timely and quite delectablenothing especially novel yet pleasurable to watch. The Last Five Years is all about a relationship which was but is no longer, and the story is told in songin chronological order by one character and reverse order by the other.
Translation: The opening number features Cathy, in "Still Hurting," wondering about what went wrong. The follow-up song finds Jamie, before he and Cathy were literally together, dreaming of her with Shiksa Goddess. (Yes, it is not surprising to think of Philip Roth and some characters within "Portnoy's Complaint.")
Adam Halpin's Jamie, who mentions the Jewish Community Center of his youth, is somewhat nerdyand also a writer very much on the rise. Insecure and bright, this is a character type. Katie Rose Clarke is lovely and fetching even if she rues the fact that, at acting auditions, all the young women (thinner than she) have already been to the gym. You have to appreciate "The Schmuel Song," about a tailor who happens to be Jewish. Jamie sings this to Cathy after he's brought to center stage a fake Christmas tree with Star of David atop.
It's tough not to root for this pair even with the knowledge that, as a couple, they will not succeed. Rarely, by the way, are they singing together. For the most part, it's Jamie with "Moving Too Fast" and then Cathy with "I'm a Part of That." A number well into the proceedings, Jamie's "If I Didn't Believe in You" is followed with Cathy belting out "I Can Do Better Than That."
A handful of instrumentalists, musically directed by James Sampliner, sit above the rear portion of the tastefully simple set created by Eugene Lee. His stage will suitably revolve. Gordon Edelstein directs The Last Five Years and he allows the talented actors to move fluently.
Props, such as brown wooden chairs, are basic and delightfully effective. The chairs become seats in a boat as he and she row about Central Park. Soon thereafter, they will marrywith the intent of staying together forever.
While Jamie is on book tour, he is enticed by other women. Cathy, at that time, is in her native state of Ohio hoping to land a performance role.
True enough, all of this is familiar. Jason Robert Brown's music, though, features soft rock, pop, some jazz, a bit of folk, too, and more. One could argue that the show is recognizable and therefore too easy. On the other hand, the lyrics ring true and the stop-and-start relationship between man and woman is complicated. Brown is a versatile composer, evidenced in Parade, a darker, deeper musical he wrote with Alfred Uhry.
The Last Five Years surely taxes the singer/actors who are on stage throughout. Each shifts emotions, concentrates on individual character yet watches for the other. Just like marriage, no?
Perhaps they really are moving too fast, as Jamie sings. Cathy feels shunted to the side and this might just represent reality. Jason Robert Brown's two-hander is bittersweet, sincere, and perceptive.
The Last Five Years continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through June 1st, 2014 For tickets, visit www.longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282.
- Fred Sokol