Metro Weekly

DC Theater Review: ‘The Last Five Years’ at Constellation Theatre

"The Last Five Years" melds the he-said-she-said romance into a heartfelt hybrid of stage and screen

The Last Five Years -- Photo: DJ Corey Photography
The Last Five Years — Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Bravely venturing into the technological wonderland where live-streaming and live theater merge into a potential minefield of mishaps, Constellation Theatre encountered a few glitches at the start of its virtual opening of The Last Five Years (★★★☆☆). Fortunately, Kathryn Chase Bryer’s production of the beloved Jason Robert Brown musical shook off an unsteady start to deliver an affecting rendition of the tender two-hander.

Better yet, those blips likely won’t figure in the final edit of the show’s VOD stream, and detracted not a whit from the committed performances of Adelina Mitchell and Alex Stone as ill-fated lovers Cathy and Jamie. That kick in the beginning might actually resonate throughout, in the live-ness surging through the actors and the tight, little orchestra, led by music director Marika Countouris.

The band sounds great backing Stone and Mitchell over the shifting terrain of Brown’s genre-hopping score. And Mitchell, especially, sounds great delivering the conversational-style lyrics, which tend to ring not too far off from the dialogue that’s threaded seamlessly between songs. She and Stone alternate in claiming scenic designer A.J. Guban’s simple, tiered in-the-round stage, as Cathy, an actress, and Jamie, a novelist, alternate sharing the tale of their last five years.

The semantic significance of their story encompassing the last, not just the past, five years plays out in the show’s criss-cross design, as Cathy starts at the end of their romance, and Jamie takes off from the dreamy-eyed, lovestruck beginning. The twain only meets in the middle, for their lush love song “The Next Ten Minutes.”

In the beginning, Jamie’s just over the moon for having finally met his “Shiksa Goddess.” Stone captures both his excitement and his relief that he’s found someone to love. In his confident physicality, Stone conveys Jamie’s ambition, too, which we can hear in his voice, if not always see on his face. Stone doesn’t master the challenge this show presents of simultaneously projecting onstage and on-camera, and too often, his expressions are lost to the lens and/or the lighting.

The Last Five Years — Photo: DJ Corey Photography

By contrast, the actor holds the camera beautifully during Jamie and Cathy’s shared “Ten Minutes” ballad. By further contrast, Mitchell seems utterly gifted at locating herself exactly where she needs to be so that we see and feel Cathy’s frustration in “See I’m Smiling,” or the wistful affection in her “A Summer in Ohio.” Guban’s revolving stage, bisected by a narrow platform, appears mighty helpful in this regard, as Mitchell connects with both the modest in-person audience and the unknown viewing audience, matching it with vocals that also connect.

Alas, as written, Cathy’s part doesn’t register the same depth or insight as Jamie’s, which benefits more from a sense of immediacy and detail in the storytelling. It just feels like we’re meant to learn more about every aspect of him than about her — a perhaps unintended by-product of the fact that Brown was inspired in the writing by his own marriage and divorce. The slight imbalance doesn’t pay off, but it does inspire one to wonder how “Cathy” might imagine those last five years.

The Last Five Years is available for streaming on-demand from June 22 through July 11. Tickets are $20 per household, plus fees. Visit www.constellationtheatre.org.

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