Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Last Five Years

Nanette Voss-Herlihy and Kyle Ryan in Redwood
Curtain's "The Last Five Years"
My review of the current Redwood Curtain show, The Last Five Years, is in the current NC Journal, and here online.  If you check the online review at the Journal site, you can also see a "rebuttal" that seems to be from the show's director.

I'll skip over the dismissive tone of her comments to get to the substance.  I stand by my experience of the show, both of the outstanding performances (I don't know who she's arguing with there) and the failure of the play.  On that I feel even more strongly than I expressed in the review.  On the matter of intelligibility, she seems to think the program statement ("The action moves simultaneously between the present and the past”) clarifies the matter. In my review I said it was enigmatic, and that's being kind.  It's meaningless nonsense.  It's unintelligible just as a sentence let alone as a description that clarifies the narrative procedure.

 She notes that the songs are listed with dates in the program.  There is no indication however of what the dates mean (usually it would be date of composition), and they are phonied up anyway for this production.  As I suggested in my review, setting this in 2011 has doubtful credibility( based on references within the songs as well as the cultural realities.)  Anyway, should we have to be reading the program during the show to understand what's going on?  Let alone the theatre website.

As for the implication that this is just the misjudgment of one cranky reviewer, it isn't.  There are other cranky reviewers of other productions who had the same problem.  When I'm baffled by something I've experienced, I try to find out if it's something I missed that is clear to everyone else.  That's not the case with this play, beginning with the New York Times review of the original production. 

It is the experience of the play that strips it of emotional force, except within the context of each song.  There is no way to match the perceptions of the two characters in time.  Mostly they seem to be singing about a completely different person from the one we just heard sing--which may be part of the point, but as an experience it is simply incoherent.  There is no reference point, no ground to stand on. At the beginning of the show it's not at all clear they are even singing about each other--there are no clear indications in the text or the staging.

 Basically, the device (of one character starting from the beginning of the relationship while the other character starts from the end) may be clever but in practice, it just doesn't work as a play.  Presented in a concert setting perhaps, with titles of some kind to set the time, or people rustling through their programs to find the date, it minimally might.  But even then, I doubt it.

There are other problems I didn't get into.  The characters are barely credible.  Jamie is supposed to be a suddenly successful novelist. The playwright might have known about New York theatre from experience (he's writing about himself apparently, and his relationship at the time) but he's questionable about how things work in the literary world, or even did work in the 90s.  In this production, as wonderful as Kyle Ryan's performance is, his stage persona is a bit too likeable for the character of Jamie.  It makes many of Cathy's complaints and characterizations seem delusional. 

I'm glad to hear that audiences are enjoying the show. There's plenty in the songs themselves and certainly the performances to enjoy (as the review said.)

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