Relationships are complicated because people are complicated. Take Jason Robert Brown's "Last Five Years," which opened Wednesday evening at American Conservatory Theater. The 85-minute, two-person musical is simple. A couple recounts the rise and fall of their love. But just when you think you know to whom fault really belongs, Brown gives his audience another heart wrenching song to balance the scales. That Cathy and Jamie play out their stories with close to no interaction at all, and in opposite chronological order, only makes it all the more curious. And then there's the fact that the show is somewhat autobiographical and you have to wonder if Brown is living proof that we are our own worst critics. Simple, but complicated.

Brown's contemporary score, although nothing spectacular, features sumptuous orchestrations for piano, violin and cello. At ACT, Matt Castle leads the small group of seven musicians, while Michael Berresse provides excellent stage direction in isolated moments that could prove stagnant elsewhere. Margo Seibert and Zak Resnick as Cathy and Jamie make outstanding storytellers, as well, with a frustrated, but relatable Cathy and an immediately likeable and naive Jamie.

While Cathy tries (and fails to wonderful comedic effect) her hand at acting, Jamie finds success as an author. Whether it's his neglect of Cathy - her version of events - or Cathy's feelings of inadequacy next to his fame - his version of events - that leads to the inevitable conclusion is never quite certain. But the lovely, character-driven drama pleases. Although the actors do struggle at times with enunciation, Seibert has a unique edge to her voice that helps define her broken character, and Resnick sets off fireworks with his vocal versatility.

In addition to Berresse's fine direction and casting, the creative team at ACT makes strong conscious choices in costumes and sets to clarify a plot that may at times be difficult to follow. Tim Mackabee's large partitions and Robert Wierzel's stark lighting give the intimate musical a stunning, grand atmosphere that fits ACT's Geary Theater Stage perfectly.

"The Last Five Years" runs May 11 - June 5 at the Geary Theatre. For tickets and information, visit

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Photo credit: Kevin Berne

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