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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

First Person Plural: The Last Five Years at A.C.T.

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Margo Seibert as Cathy and Zak Resnick as Jamie. - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Margo Seibert as Cathy and Zak Resnick as Jamie.
Originally produced in 2001, A.C.T.’s revival of The Last Five Years breathlessly charts the demise of a marriage in song. Jamie (Zak Resnick) is an ambitious young writer, otherwise known as a self-involved cad. His wife Cathy (Margo Seibert) is a singer/actress who is trying to break into show business. They both make abundant use of the pronoun “I”. It comes then as no surprise that the marriage is over right from the start.

That’s the central conceit of The Last Five Years, to split the narrative into a cycle of he said, she said songs that move both backwards and forwards in time. Cathy’s first song begins at the end of the relationship; Jamie’s on their first date. The staging, aided and abetted by the set design, reinforces the idea that they lived together not as a couple but as separate individuals.

Jamie and Cathy each sing a song in turn, briskly darting on stage and off before their next number. Part of the problem with this approach is that the lyrics, mostly platitudes and mostly forgettable, start to run together. It’s difficult to process the meaning of the songs in order for them to resonate and sink in. Character development is sacrificed for the narrative conceit of a clock moving in two different directions.
Margo Seibert as Cathy and Zak Resnick as Jamie. - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Margo Seibert as Cathy and Zak Resnick as Jamie.

It’s not that either singer is untalented. Margo Seibert’s voice is beautiful — but it’s too beautiful for the wronged Cathy. Seibert’s innate pluckiness overrides any palpable despair or rage a spouse might feel after a betrayal. Except for the opening song “Still Hurting,” her voice lifts up and sails over the emotion. Her phrasing and tone are exquisite, and her energy is determined and warm, but she can’t make the bland words mean very much.

And then there’s Jamie (Zak Resnick) who appears on stage swaddled inside a pair of wrinkled skinny jeans. Yes, they’re a look. And yes, as a “costume” they indicate his prototypical millennial-ness. But they’re a saggy, unnecessary distraction from the musical at hand.

In one scene, Resnick has to pull them on and then over a pair of baggy boxers. The song he’s singing is supposed to express how tortured Jamie is for cheating on Cathy. Does he feel badly? Will he go back to Cathy? Instead of caring about his excuses and motivations, more suspense was created by the question: “How on earth is he going to hoik those pants on over his underwear without a wardrobe malfunction?” 

Zak Resnick as Jamie - KEVIN BERNE
  • Kevin Berne
  • Zak Resnick as Jamie

There’s a knowing nod to nostalgia in this production. It’s like watching an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show before Mary Tyler Moore landed a better, wittier series of her own. When The Last Five Years ends, you're left with a beige feeling. It’s as if one monotonous note had been playing in the ear for over an hour.

But imagine Cathy as the successful, promiscuous partner, an unemployed Jamie impatiently waiting for her to come home. If the lead roles had been reversed, or even if they had shared more stage time singing to each other instead of directly addressing the audience, that might have made for an arresting update instead of an un-involving one.

The Last Five Years, at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary, San Francisco.


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