The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions: Theater review

Actors Jim DeSelm and Allison Hendrix serve as each other's accompanists in an affecting twist on Jason Robert Brown's bittersweet song cycle.

1/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

2/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

3/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

4/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

5/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

6/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

7/7
Photograph: courtesy of Kokandy Productions

The Last Five Years at Kokandy Productions

Jason Robert Brown's two-actor 2001 musical shows a relationship's rise and fall from two perspectives: We see hotshot novelist Jamie playing out his romance with struggling actress Cathy from the moment of their first meeting at age 23, while Cathy's side of the story is told in reverse, beginning at their marriage's end. The opposing accounts only cross in the middle, at the occasion of their engagement.

The dueling trajectories provide abundant opportunities for counterpoint in both the narrative and Brown's pleasant, poppy collection of songs, which range from jazzy numbers to wistful ballads. It's a remarkably emotionally honest portrayal of a relationship's flow and ebb: Jamie moves from initial giddiness to complacency and on through to doubt, resentment and regret, while Cathy does all the same backwards (and in heels). Yet Brown paints both with equal parts compassion and candor.

John D. Glover's staging for Kokandy Productions adds the clever twist of actors Jim DeSelm and Allison Hendrix each serving as the other's accompanist on piano. (The two, who also serve as the show's musical directors, are backed by two more musicians on violin and cello.) This simple but rather ingenious device effectively turns the piece into a dual memory play, allowing both to subtly weigh in on the other's recollection—DeSelm at the piano snorting an objection to Cathy's characterization of the couple's marriage in "Still Hurting," or Hendrix's deeply wounded expression as she plays along with Jamie's adultery in "Nobody Needs to Know." They're both reacting to and driving the moment.

Of course, this could come across as an empty gimmick if DeSelm and Hendrix weren't also fine actors and gifted singers. The big-voiced DeSelm subtly conveys the way Jamie's genuine charm balances his ample self-regard, while Hendrix expresses Cathy's frustration and anxiety without seeming excessively needy. Both aptly capture the minute sense of betrayal in moments when the other doesn't show up for them; glance over at the piano, and see the other partner silently acknowledging their wrong. We want a happy ending for both of these flawed people—even if we know they won't find it with each other.

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