Each relationship comes with baggage, but rarely do you get to see a couple's detritus all at once. Director Kelsey Leigh Ervi's concept for The Last Five Years, Jason Robert Brown's hauntingly beautiful musical about the flowering and souring of one New York romance, is all about more, but especially more stuff.
Bradley Gray's multi-tiered set is crammed with photos, furniture, clothing, and even ice skates and a full-size Christmas tree, some of which is utilized by the two-person cast during the 90-minute show. It's a bit claustrophobic, and can sometimes make the criss-crossing timeline even harder to follow.
Brown's conceit is that Jamie, a budding novelist, begins the show having just met his future love, Cathy. The aspiring actress Cathy, however, starts at their divorce and works backwards. They trade songs, each moving away from or toward the love they built and discarded. Traditionally the only time the two characters truly connect is at their mid-show wedding, but not in Ervi's version.
At WaterTower Theatre, Jamie and Cathy are constanting interacting, playing silent scene partner to each other with backup from the onstage band, members of which are perched throughout the set. Sometimes that works. When the band, led by music director Adam C. Wright and with a particular stand-out performance by violinist Katrina Kratzer, is brought into the action, it gives the actors an often humorous sounding board. But often the constant togetherness of Jamie and Cathy weakens the impact of the actor who's singing — it feels like more for the sake of more.
Clawing their way out from the avalanche are two extremely talented performers, Seth Womack and Monique Abry. Womack immediately gives us a hint of Jamie's later insufferable ego, but heaps on so much charm that it's easy to see why Cathy falls for the young writer. Abry nails Cathy's deep-seated insecurity but still emits a "cool girl" vibe, instantly explaining why Jamie eagerly moves from moving in to putting a ring on it.
But as the musical marches on, the balance is thrown and Jamie emerges as the more likable of the two. It's a curious development, one that perhaps Ervi didn't intend to create but that lingers nonetheless.
It doesn't linger as strongly as the emotional gut-punch that is Brown's ending, though, and Ervi continues the wave of longing with a mini "museum of broken relationships" in the lobby. Pause on your way in or out of the theater to read why seemingly ordinary objects encapsulate a relationship for the locals who lent them.
WaterTower Theatre's production of The Last Five Years runs through July 1.