Meet me in the middle
The Last Five Years
Once in a blue moon, the B Street Theatre stages a chamber musical like The Last Five Years. It’s an 80-minute show with two actors, a pleasant four-piece band (piano, violin, cello and bass) and, inevitably, a storyline involving love, with complications.
In a 100-seat space, it’s also acoustic and up close, unlike the big shows. And because the performers (both from Southern California) are professionals, it’s glossier than a community musical.
The show is about 20-somethings Jamie (played by Eric Anderson) and Cathy (Jessica Rush). He’s Jewish, intense and a novelist. You can tell his star is rising because he spends more and more time on his cell phone. She’s blond, Catholic and a struggling actress, working mostly in the Midwest. (There’s a hilarious song in which she reveals her thoughts while auditioning, unsuccessfully, in New York.)
The conceit is the way the story’s told. She begins with the breakup and works back to their first encounter. He does the reverse, saying farewell at the end. They marry in the middle. It’s rather poignant.
Anderson and Rush show charm as actors and sing well. And the songs are solid—in 2002, writer Jason Robert Brown picked up Drama Desk Awards for music and lyrics. Chris Schlagel leads the band smoothly from the keyboard. Director Michael Stevenson, penciled in on short notice, serves up good visuals, including shrewd use of a rowboat.
If there’s a drawback, it is that you can only summon so much sympathy. Yes, it’s too bad they split up. But really, they’re young, vital and comparatively well-off: He’s getting reviewed in the New Yorker, and while she may be stuck doing summer stock in Ohio, at least she’s working and getting good notices from the local papers. Things get rougher in the real world.