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