Monday, September 19, 2016

The Last Five Years, Lakeland Civic Theatre

It’s pretty hard to connect with a love story, or a break-up story, when the two principals never engage in intercourse (I mean the talking kind). But that’s exactly what happens in The Last Five Years, written and composed by Jason Robert Brown.

It’s a bold device, having a man and a woman look at their relationship and their lives from two different time perspectives. At the start, Catherine is lamenting the end of her marriage to Jamie in the powerful tune “Still Hurting” while Jamie, in his separate solo songs, begins with his excitement at first meeting Catherine, his “Shiksa Goddess.”

They meet briefly halfway through the 90-minute show in “The Next Ten Minutes,” but other than that they’re two people—he an emerging writer and she a struggling actor—going different directions, in more ways than one.

The songs by Brown are often affecting. In “Climbing Uphill,” Brown sketches out the trauma of an audition, obsessing about her shoes and then instantly segueing into other matters, “I can go to Crate and Barrel with mom and buy a coach/Not that I want to spend a day with mom/But Jamie needs a space to write/Since I’m obviously such a horrible, annoying distraction to him.”

Sure, some of the melodies start sounding similar after awhile. And the fact that we hardly ever see these two individuals react to each other in the moment ultimately feels manipulative.

Faced with these challenges, Jason Leupold and Neely Gevaart manage to make the play work. Each has a strong and distinctive singing voice, and each does well with their hot numbers (Leupold with “The Schmuel Song” and Gevaart with “A Summer in Ohio”). The last song features the lyric one often hears as a promotion on the Sirius Broadway channel: “But it wouldn’t be as nice as a summer in Ohio/With a gay midget playing Tevye, and Porgy.”

But Leupold never quite latches onto the hard edge of Jamie’s rampant ambition, and Gevaart doesn’t fully embody her character’s vulnerable romanticism.

The Last Five Years gets major kudos for taking chances, and for its sly knowledge of the entertainment business. And director Martin Friedman wisely lets his actors take charge of the stage, even though pushing a couple multi-tiered bookcases around the space didn’t noticeably enhance the proceedings. And it’s a shame that a huge screen, which is lowered into place at the start and then raised before the end, wasn’t used for something more than some faint color spill.

The Last Five Years

Through October 2 at Lakeland Civic Theatre, Lakeland Community College, 7700 Clocktower Drive, Kirtland, 440-525-7134.

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