by Jason Robert Brown

Directed and Accompanied By Michael Sebastian

Backlot Arts at East Village Cabaret

6265 Lake Osprey Dr., Sarasota

(941) 373-3933, To Feb. 18, '08


Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


East Village Cabaret, newly patterned after intimate New York-style venues, bears not the faintest resemblance to the rugged warehouse from which Backlot Arts moved last fall. With a return to runs of plays via the musical drama The Last Five Years, the move is complete. Scene and show make a fine match. We come up close on this sung-through love story and its reverse, just as Cathy and Jamie reveal it—she beginning at its end "Still Hurting" and he at its start "Waiting" for love. Both sing their sides of the story mainly in monologues, coming together only for a marriage proposal and subsequent ceremonial duet. Steve Dawson and his real-life wife Dianne Dawson bring authenticity as well as considerable vocal and dramatic talent to their roles. Her soprano is glass-clear, not strained even when tears swell. He wrings emotion out of many lines, but gets laughs-out-loud describing Jamie's thoughts of a "Shiksa Goddess." A Christmas story of a "Schmoo" is equally funny. There's a curtained backdrop for scenery, two chairs and a few brought-on props, but with all the simplicity, a rather astonishing number of costume changes. They're made with ease both on and offstage, often helping define time, place, action.


Like his monologues, Jason Robert Brown's music varies in type and tone: ballads, jazz, folk, funk. Sounds as well as dialogue delineate both personalities and moods, and the Dawsons are up to them all. As a lyricist, Brown is wise to emphasize assonance, since he sometimes strains for rhyme (e.g., think...sink). As a playwright, he creates types we easily recognize. Jewish Jamie comes on as a budding fiction writer, falls in love with a gentile, and finds temptation grows along with obligations to publishers and public as he succeeds. Cathy, an aspiring actress, gets sidetracked into thinking she'd love being a wife and mother, then prefers not to go to Jamie's office or readings. Pursuing their careers, they're often separated by miles as well as ambition. Were they too different to succeed in marriage? At too early a stage in their lives? Torn apart finally by working far apart? Did they fail to meet each other half way or was mutual unwillingness to compromise or sacrifice self the cause of their break-up?


Brown leaves us to speculate on the reasons for the end, because there's no doubt what the end is.  His structure, then, is both the glory of the piece and a dramatic shortcoming. We always know the end of the story, so there's no dramatic suspense. Yet the reason for the end of the marriage isn't satisfied, though devotion to the breaking up far exceeds attention to the relationship's development. We're not even sure if it was simply a case of  "opposites attracting." The Dawsons' performances, along with Michael Sebastian's enthusiastic direction of them and the music, put so much sparkle into the characters that we may well forgive their lack of dimension.


Alternate casting is said to give a different spin on The Last Five Years. For half of the performances Berry Ayers plays Jamie and Katherine Tanner plays Cathy. Schedules and tickets for the non-stop 90 minute dramatic song-cycle are available at or by phone.


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