The Last Five Years
The Lounge Theater
In this excellent production, Ashley Cuellar is the woman, Cathy, and Rory Alexander is the man, Jamie. While they often perform side by side, they interact directly only on one song, “The Next Ten Minutes,” and it is quite exciting to see them finally come together in a powerful duet that ends with a kiss.
Cuellar is completely captivating and enchanting from beginning to end, pinpointing the appropriate emotion throughout each song: pain and deep feelings in her opening number, “Still Hurting”; terrific acting chops in “See I’m Smiling”; sweetness in tone and attitude on “I’m a Part of That”; and sheer exuberance in “A Summer in Ohio.”
Alexander comes off a bit stolid early on. Despite a strong, steady voice, he does not express the necessary range of upbeat emotions in his early songs as he reflects on the first wave of love and his success as a budding writer—as exemplified by “Shiksa Goddess,” which needed a lighter touch.
However, by the time he gets to the songs with darker emotions late in the show—“I Didn’t Believe in You” and “Nobody Needs to Know”—his acting skills kick in and he’s able to convey the required sensitivity and pain.
The final pair of songs—“Goodbye Until Tomorrow” sung by an eager Cathy in the first throes of love, in counterpoint to “I Could Never Rescue You” by a crushed Jamie facing separation from love—was a powerful coda to an insightful series of songs that has provided a wealth of material for a cabaret singer to use.
The staging was simple but effective: two sets of steps on opposite sides of the stage, allowing each character to sing from “home”; two chairs; a partition at the center that enabled the singers to exit and change clothes; and rear-screen projections on each side of the stage that illustrated scene settings or the emotional states of the character. While the projections worked exceedingly well in most instances—showing a diving pier in one scene, a New York skyline in another, a dying rose in still another—some were a bit too abstract, forcing the viewer to shift focus away from the singers and the story they were telling to figure out what the picture was.
Cleverly, the two screens showed the same pictures only once—at the mid-point of the play, when his story and hers coincided in their wedding, when both screens showed a fresh rose and a wedding band.
The play maintained fine attention to detail: for example, having Jamie write a note on a small pad and placing it on one of the steps at the end of the play (and the beginning of his relationship)—the same stoop where Cathy finds it at the beginning of the play (at the end of the relationship).
The singers were very ably supported by four terrific musicians: Ron Snyder, musical director, on piano; Nancy Kuo on violin; Yuichiro Kevin Asami on guitar; and Jay Rubottom on bass. While the piano kept the pace going in a subtle way, each of the other instruments was featured effectively at different points in the evening.
The play was produced and directed by William Hemmer for Bright Eyes Productions in only his second outing at a director. He’s done a fine job—hiring two wonderful singers, moving them around smoothly and effectively and creating a swift and pleasant pace.
(Photo by Bill Hemmer)