Autumn Hurlbert and Jed Resnick in The Last Five Years.
The Last Five Years
Written and Composed by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Meredith McDonough
Music Direction by Brian J. Nash
Review by Rachel White
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Rachel White. All rights reserved
The Last Five Years is a delicate little musical that feels like a play. Cathy (Autumn Hurlbert) is an aspiring actress, who struggles for success. Jamie (Jed Resnick) is a budding author on the brink of very real success. They fall in love, of course, and inevitably things begin to crumble. The twist? Cathy tells her story starting at the end, while Jamie begins at the beginning. Their experiences are expressed entirely through song, and they never really interact, at least not verbally. These structural elements add an emotional vitality and theatricality to an otherwise very simple story.
The play opens with Cathy’s first song “Still Hurting”. Jamie has left her and she imagines him moving on as she is left alone. This is juxtaposed with Jamie’s first number “I Could Be In Love with Someone Like You”, where Jamie sees Cathy for the first time. Thus, the ironic lens through which we will view the rest of the play is established.
The backwards and forwards, sliding doors effect of the structure sheds light on all the subtle missteps the two characters make as they journey through the relationship. Their blind spots are brought into sharp relief. In “I’m A Part of That” we see Cathy’s infatuation with Jamie, her love for his brilliance, as well as her nagging awareness that she is getting left behind. In “Moving Too Fast”, Jamie expresses his reservations about moving in with Cathy.
Hurlbert injects Cathy with the desperation and vulnerability that must repel and fascinate Jamie. Cathy is gifted but she can’t see it. She is ambitious but she lacks Jamie’s fortitude. Jamie on the other hand can be distant and charming by turns. Resnick plays all of these shades. In “Schmuel Song” you sense Jamie’s belief in Cathy, his love for her, but also his frustration with her lack of courage. Both performances are subtle and grounded.
The scenic design by Dane Laffrey under McDonough’s direction is minimalist but effective. Single set pieces are used, and the scenery is projected onto a scrim behind the actors. When the characters are driving through Ohio a country road flies away behind them. When they marry, serenely lit trees are projected, evoking the emotions of a summer wedding.
On a thematic level the play deals with issues of fear and courage; the characters seem to race toward their dreams and then pull back or flee them. There is the ever-present fear of failure, the fear of commitment, and of course the fear of happiness.
By the end I wasn’t sure what exactly went wrong between Jamie and Cathy, and that ambiguity felt right; the process of a relationship often leaves both people bewildered as well as wounded. The piece is tender, poignant, and refreshingly honest.
The Last Five Years
October 7-26, 2014
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
[box_light]Rachel White received her MFA in playwriting from the New School for Drama, and her BA in English and Dramatic from Centre College. Her plays have been produced in New York at The New School, the Midtown International Theatre Festival and the American Globe Theater, in Los Angeles at Moving Arts Productions and the Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA. In Louisville, she has had productions at the Slant Culture Theatre Festival, the Tim Faulkner Gallery, and Finnigan Productions. She is a recipient of the Litwin Foundation Fellowship in Playwriting, and was recently a semi-finalist in the Labute New Theater Festival. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, and the Playwrights Gallery in New York.[/box_light]