BWW Review: Deconstructing a Marriage in Song: Portland Stage Presents THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Jason Robert Brown's THE LAST FIVE YEARS is a touching, edgy, through-composed gem of a work which handles the huge subject of a failed marriage and all its psychological fallout in minimalist terms. The two-character, completely sung book uses a lovely string trio to underscore the introspective monologues of the husband and wife, as they travel in non-linear time through the memories of their marriage.
Brown's writing is lyrical, wistful, tinged with humor and melancholy, His lyrics are often cutting and powerful, though occasionally trite and obvious, and the delivery of his songs requires intensity and variety to make the piece work well. There is a confessional bent to the entire work and it succeeds best from the musical and dramatic counterpoint of characters' perspectives.
In Kevin R. Free's direction, this subtle dissonance is not always felt. To be sure there are touching moments such as the wedding scene and the final two monologues as Cathy and Jamie separate, but often the staging - particularly the musical movement - is awkward and clichéd. Moments that might be better served as inward and introspective are too often given gesture and action that distracts from the emotional impact.
Laura Darrell as Cathy and Johnny Shea as Jamie both possess strong voices and rise admirably to the considerable vocal demands of their roles, but one often wishes for more intensity, more interpretive contrast, more dark edginess to the portrayals. They communicate the vulnerability of their characters touchingly, but seem to miss a layer of the gut wrenching that should be part of this work.
Music Director Ed Reichert, together with violinist Catherine Begin and cellist Lynnea Harding, play the score in an inspired, expressive manner. Scenic Designer Meg Anderson creates a lovely, spare set comprised of two broken circles, symbolic of the marriage and wedding rings discarded at the end of the play. However, she also adds some decorative fly-ins that seem to come and go so frequently without motivation as to cause a distraction. Porsche McGovern's lighting design matches the cool minimalism of the set and helps direct the flow of action and viewer attention. Anna Grywalski's costumes are naturally simple, yet attractive, particularly in the touches of color in Cathy's dresses. Seth Asa Sengel creates the very well-balanced acoustic that makes hearing a work like ths so pleasing in Portland Stage's intimate space, and Stage manager Myles C. Hatch keeps the production on course.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS makes a poignant conclusion to Portland Stage's season and offers a welcome change of pace with a musical play.
Photos courtesy of Portland Stage, Aaron Flacke, photographer
THE LAST FIVE YEARS runs from April 30- May 19, 2019 at Portland Stage, 25A Forest Ave., Portland, ME www.portlandstage.org207-774-0465