Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Last 5 Years—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

Ships Passing in the Night

This two-character musical is by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Nancy Keystone.  It is playing in the Ellyn Bye Studio at PCS at 128 NW 11th Ave. through June 22nd.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

It is said the most common story in the world is boy meets girl (or, in this day and age, person meets person)….  True, but how that is presented, the intricacies of the individual unions, and the outcomes, can be as unique as snowflakes.  There really is no secret ingredient that will make it work, or a roadmap to tell you how to do it, or any guarantees.  But, from my perspective, keep it simple.  In others words, just be nice to each other, don’t let your ego get in the way and simply…love them.

The unique presentation of this show is that one person’s story, Jamie’s (Drew Harper) starts at the beginning of their relationship, and Cathy’s (Merideth Kaye Clark), starts at the end.  And because of this perspective, they only meet in the middle, when they get married.  The rest of it is, he says, she says.  So they are like two ships passing in the night in the playing of the scenes.

There is no way to give a linear view of it except to let you know the overall picture.  Jamie is an up and coming writer, a novelist, when they meet.  Cathy is a struggling actor.  To begin with, being an artist alone is a difficult row to hoe.  But when two artists try to merge, their individual passions/obsessions for their craft/art can supersede a successful union between two people.  I can speak from personal experience on this.

While Jamie is climbing the ladder to success, Cathy has yet to make her mark.  He must attend endless book signings and promotional tours to keep his name in the public eye.  She is forced to do summer stock and regional theatre just to keep working.  Her goal, The Big Apple where, if she makes it there, she can, as the song goes, “make it anywhere.”  But temptations are too great and Fame is a cruel mistress, so Jamie is sliding down that slippery slope called Success.  Meanwhile, Cathy is being weighed down by her frustrations.  The conclusion seems inevitable.

This is presented like an opera, where almost the whole story is sung and the songs are the story.  My favorite songs were Cathy’s lamenting summer stock in “A Summer in Ohio,” her audition attempts in “Climbing Uphill” and her “I Can Do Better Than That.”  Jamie had his comic moments in “The Schmuel Song” and then the sad lament of “Nobody Needs to Know.”  And, like I said, their whole story is in the songs and well done, too.

Both Clark and Harper have amazing voices.  They shone also earlier this year in Portland Playhouse’s Light in the Piazza.  It is difficult playing mostly to empty space on an essentially bare stage but they show they have “the right stuff” for it.  They both have terrific voices and are darn good in the acting area, too.

Keystone has used the bare space very well and is inventive about not letting the play slow down because of the confined environment, and never confusing the audience as to where they are.  The space (Daniel Meeker) is cleverly laid out, allowing for its maximum use.  The script (Brown), at times, is a bit confusing, because you are always trying to remember which way each of the characters is heading in their relationship but it is a clever concept.

And, Eric Little, the third member of the team, is the lone, musical confidant for the group.  He is wonderful and, like the actors, is probably exhausted at the end of the non-stop, 90 minutes of the show.  I would recommend this show.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.