With love, it's all in the timing
By Jeffrey Borak
Berkshire Eagle Staff
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Timing is everything in a relationship. By the time Jason
Robert Brown's mostly sungthrough musical, "The Last 5 Years," has run its
course, it is clear that timing is among the primary casualties for a couple
whose individual needs, at the time they meet, simply aren't synchronous.
To emphasize the point, "The Last 5 Years," which is being given a solidly
crafted, generally appealing and insightful production at TheaterWorks, moves
both forward and backward in time. Over the course of the musical's 14 scenes,
Cathy (Sally Wilfert) moves backward in time from the present while Jamie
(Joe Cassidy) moves forward in time, beginning with their first date.
When we meet Cathy, it is at the end of her marriage to Jamie. She is bitter,
angry, resentful, blaming Jamie for shutting her out of their relationship.
She is bearing scars she hasn't earned, she sings in the show's opening number,
"Still Hurting." And through the early sequences, there is little reason
to doubt Cathy's assessment of Jamie's lapses.
We meet Jamie five years earlier, when he is in full revolt against his parents'
middle class Jewish values by taking up with a blonde "Shiksa (Yiddish for
a Gentile girl) Goddess."
Fresh out of college, Jamie hits it big with his first novel, which propels
him on a fast track to celebrity. The atmosphere is heady and seductive.
Jamie may have been a bar mitzvah at 13 but it is clear that, in his early
20s, he has yet to wear the mantle of maturity and manhood.
But there is a shift. It happens on a Christmas Eve when Jamie writes a fable
for Cathy, "The Schmuel Song." Its lesson is that Cathy's acting career will
come to nothing if she doesn't make a move, take a chance, go out on a limb.
In the process, Jamie assures Cathy that he is her safety net, that his love
is there for her.
From that point, the dynamics change. Dimensions emerge. New information
reshapes our perceptions of Jamie and Cathy and it becomes increasingly evident
that what is getting in the way of them functioning smoothly as a couple
comes from weaknesses, flaws, unmet needs within each of them.
Brown's inventive conceptual scheme for "The Last 5 Years" is a gamble that
does not always pay big dividends. Much to his credit, Brown does not spell
everything out for us. But, at the same time, there is a feeling of incompleteness
here. Small pieces of the puzzle seem to be missing.
Credit director Rob Ruggiero and his resourceful cast with filling in the
holes and then some.
Ruggiero's production moves seamlessly and purposefully through its intermissionless
90 or so minutes. More than that, Wilfert and Cassidy find intense dramatic
expression and rich dimension in Brown's listenable music and lyrics.
In Cassidy and Wilfert's hands, time and experience clearly shape Jamie and
Cathy. The development is subtle, gradual. Cassidy's Jamie begins as a raw,
somewhat self-centered wunderkind who is juggling twin responsibilities of
celebrity and a serious relationship, emerging finally as a serious, complex
adult facing consequential choices. Wilfert's Cathy turns out to be a woman
paralyzed by insecurity and fear, whose wants and needs are both very simple
and very complex. Neither Jamie nor Cathy seems able to let go of enough
of themselves to allow the other in as a full partner until things get way
past the point of no return.
It's all in the timing.
The Last Five Years