BWW Reviews: THE LAST FIVE YEARS
It's the relationship that everyone is familiar with, whether they went through it themselves or they watched a loved one go through it. THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a he -said, she-said telling of a relationship that as it goes from good to bad no matter how hard they each try to salvage it.
This show follows the story of a couple over their five year relationship. It opens with a kiss, but as the audience soon finds this is the couples first and last kiss simultaneously. Cathy's story is told backwards, from break up to hopeful ending of their first date, while Jamie's side is told in chronological order. This may sound like a recipe for audience confusion but the way these songs overlap at times and the effective staging makes their story all the more poignant.
In a way, the fact that their songs seem out of synch is a perfect way of portraying these two people who, while they tried, were never in the same place. Driven and gifted Jamie is a young writer who shoots to fame while Cathy is a struggling actress who gets as far as Summer Stock in Ohio. As they try, filled with the optimism, surety, and drive of youth try to make this relationship work, the audience already knows this is a failed experiment. As the point of view switches from Cathy's sad farewell to Jamie's enthusiasm, it makes the hopefulness of the new relationship that much more bittersweet.
As Cathy goes from sad, angry, and frustrated to happy, Jamie goes from ecstatic, supportive, and unable to continue the fight. These two characters can be played as stock one notes (and it has been seen that way, by me at least) but Adam Kantor (Jamie) and Betsy Wolfe (Cathy) bring out the facets of each of their flawed characters. One of the challenges of this show is that neither performer is directly interacting with each other for a majority of the show. Since their trajectories are opposite of each other, the only time they really interact is in the middle of the show. This is a challenge for the performers to really get the audience to connect with them as a couple, because most of the time they are diametrically opposed in what emotion and point in the relationship they are relating. Yet due to their performances, this plot device only serves to make this relationship that much more poignant.
Wolfe has a great voice, and while she is excellent in the more serious songs like "Still Hurting" but she really shines in the funnier songs like "summer in Ohio" and in "Climbing Uphill" as she struggles with failed audition after failed audition. Kantor is great as the brilliant writer with insight that can be put on the page, yet not worked out in reality as easily. His is especially good in the storytelling aspects of the songs, with a standout in the "The Schmuel Song".
I know that reviewing a show that is in New York is off my normal beaten path of San Diego for theatre. But when in New York you have to see shows, and this is one I didn't want to miss. I highly recommend that you don't miss it either!