Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
I think it has been about five years since the first time I reviewed a production of The Last Five Years, a two-person musical (contemporary opera?) about love and expectations, written and composed by Jason Robert Brown.
When I reread my 2013 review, I realized that Clock Tower Theater Company’s production at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott had the same effect on me as that earlier staging.
Director Brad Morgan knows that it takes two very strong performers to carry a show that features them — and only them — and he found two such people. Emily Goodell (Catherine) and Andrew Simek (Jamie) made it look easy on opening night (Oct. 18), even though they actually only interact once during the entire two acts.
Does it help that the actors’ clear chemistry in that one pivotal scene is based, in part, on their real-life partnership? Maybe, but so what? It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
Still intriguing to me about The Last Five Years is the dueling perspectives of these two characters. Catherine is an aspiring stage actor and singer whose auditions only seem to get her summer stock roles in Ohio. Not a bad gig for any actor, but when she is in love with someone whose novelist career is skyrocketing, even as her acting career sputters, jealousy rears its stupid head.
She sings and speaks the story of her failed marriage, starting with its irreconcilable, bitter end and moving backwards to its giddy, hopeful beginning. Jamie, on the other hand, relives it in the expected and chronological fashion, from beginning to end. At times each one is forced to scream at the phantom other, still on the stage, but otherwise occupied in another time.
And speaking of time, Craig Saeger’s set is one giant clock, with the top six Roman numeral digits as the backdrop, and the bottom six serving as the floor. A nice way to evoke the magical realism of the script.
The two characters engage one another in real time, only once, when their mutual stars align. Or do they? Jamie is conceited and immature, and Catherine is jealous and possessive. This isn’t going to last.
The time warp device of this show is just shy of a gimmick, but it works.
Matthew Vavalle is music director here, and Chelsea French is stage manager. Costume designer Sarah Bechtel kept wardrobe changes simple and effective.
IF YOU GO: The Last Five Years continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday (Oct. 25-28). For tickets, visit www.cidermillstage.com, or call the box office at 607-778-9617. Tickets for A Christmas Carol at the Cider Mill Stage are also on sale now.