Monday, March 03, 2014

A satisfying twist in LungFish Prods.’ "The Last 5 Years"

(Kaitlin Mellinger/Kyle James Traver poster design)

The Last Five Years
LungFish Productions
(at Armory Theater 4)
Through March 1

A new company, Lungfish Productions has begun producing plays in the last year. Their latest offering was The Last Five Years, a musical that is easy to produce because it only has two characters on stage. It is written by Jason Robert Brown, who is famous for intricate music.

JRB, as many refer to him, has written some very autobiographical musicals, and this is no exception. This story is told with the male character falling in love and proceeding forward for five years of the relationship until the end, but the female character starts at the end of the five­year relationship and proceeds backwards in time to the beginning.

The male character is a writer, though to make it a little less autobiographical, he writes books, not musicals. The female is an actress, and she is written with a lot of insecurities. Maybe because it’s autobiographical and JRB isn’t good at expressing himself, we learn a lot about the woman, Cathy, and really don’t learn much about the interior life of Jamie. In fact, Jamie comes off as very self­centered and rather hard to like.

This production starred EmilyRose Frasca and her husband James Frasca, and they made a lovely and believable couple. The production used a number of photographs of the relationship as it went forward and backward, and all of the photos used were real ones taken of the Frascas’ relationship itself. The Frascas meshed well with one another and were both able to hold our attention and tell the story. They made a great casting choice for the production.

The music direction by Kimberly Dare was well done and the addition of a string section was marvelous. The musicians managed beautifully in a difficult performing venue where they were spread around and had some difficulty seeing their conductor. It’s somewhat the nature of that black box space.

Director Kyle James Traver had an interesting idea about The Last Five Years. He did not make any changes at all to any lyrics or dialogue, but he reinterpreted the meaning of a couple of songs in an interesting way.

After a first act that doesn’t reveal much about Jamie’s feelings, Jamie already comes off as an asshole.

In the second act, there is a song called “Nobody Needs to Know,” sung by Jamie. Typically, it is a song sung by Jamie supposedly to a woman he is cheating with, about how his wife, Cathy, doesn’t need to know about the affair.

The original understanding of the plot would be that Jamie cheats on Cathy and that’s why they end their marriage. But Traver reimagined the story and had James Frasca sing with a wine bottle in his hand, implying that what “nobody needed to know” was that Jamie is a closet drunk.

It certainly is a credible reason to break up – many couples break up over drugs or alcohol – but it softens the character flaw. If Jamie has an affair, what redeeming value does he have as a love interest for Cathy?

The last song in the musical has Jamie singing “I love you” to Cathy. If Jamie parts from Cathy due to his drinking, that makes it far more understandable for him to say “I love you” to her, even though he can’t control his addiction, than if he says that after cheating on her with another woman.

Kudos to Traver and the Frascas!

We shall look forward to what LungFish develops next, and applaud the creative thinking that led to a satisfying musical experience of The Last Five Years.