Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Last Five Years

Also see Susan's review of American Utopias and coverage of The Helen Hayes Awards

Erin Weaver and James Gardiner
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, lives up to its reputation of getting the best people to populate and stage its musicals with its current production of The Last Five Years. Jason Robert Brown's painfully intimate story of falling into and out of love benefits from the polished performances of Erin Weaver and James Gardiner and the assured direction of Aaron Posner. [The production replaces Signature's previously announced production of Crimes of the Heart.]

Daniel Conway has designed a unit set that incorporates both the literal—packing crates, a bed, a desk, a swivel chair—and the metaphorical—an 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.

Signature Theatre
The Last Five Years
April 2nd - 28th
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown
Jamie: James Gardiner
Cathy: Erin Weaver
Directed by Aaron Posner
Musical direction by William Yanesh
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

Photo: Teresa Wood

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