Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Last Five Years and a Shrew

Charlene of the empty baskets
Thursday it must be Jason Robert Brown

Around 6pm on August 18, I drove around alot (seemed like five years!) seeking a parking space, and finally paid $5 to park in the lot next to ion theatre.

A friend and I were catching a bite to eat prior to seeing ion theatre’s production of Jason Robert Brown’s two-hand musical, The Last Five Years.

I think I liked the show better than my friend did. It concerns the break up of a five-year love affair, and it’s told by two people entirely in song and recit (she working backwards from the bitter end and he going forward from the beginning). I knew that already from having heard it before, somewhere in time, and did a bit of research to find that it was performed in 2009 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. That must have been it.

The two people in question at ion theatre are a guy, Jamie, a successful novelist, and a girl, Cathy, a struggling actor, played and sung, respectively, by Cory Hibbs and Sarah Alida LeClair. Their diction (blessedly without microphones!) is excellent and both have good voices, though hers is a bit easier on the ears. His tends, in certain registers, towards edgy and unlovely. Both, however, are extremely musical.
Photo courtesy of ion theatre

The two singer/actors alternate playing a huge and wonderfully adequate keyboard that is haunted by the ghost of San Diego artist/pianist Cris O’Bryon, who recorded vamps as part of the score to allow them to scamper from bench to playing area between songs, smooth as silk.

I’m not sure that Jason Robert Brown, who’s having quite a renaissance in New York of late (there was a recent production of The Last Five Years off Broadway), is an acquired taste, but I found that I enjoyed the songs, the scintillating lyrics and the unfussy production.

I’m also not certain why Hibbs and LeClair are playing an engagement that spans only ten days, August 11-21. Word of mouth is good, and so are the reviews, but even so, ten days leaves this excellent piece little time to build an audience. Go, for heaven’s sakes, if at all possible. Fri at 8pm, Sat at 4pm, and Sun at 2pm. Ion theatre Blkbox, 3704 Sixth Ave at Pennsylvania,  or 619-600-5020.

And in New York:

The Last Five Years – with Tony Award-winner Cynthia Ervivo and Tony Award nominee Joshua Henry – will be performed one night only in concert, with orchestra conducted by Brown. It benefits the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and takes place at Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St., NY NY. Tickets at Ticketmaster.

Inner Mission’s Shrew

Playing catch up, I dragged myself to Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box August 19 to see Inner Mission Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew, a play that I do not hate. The performance was well attended by an audience that found the entire proceedings guffaw-guffaw funny and screamed a great deal. I found it less funny than they – perhaps they were laughing at friends who played roles stereotypically, which was in some cases funny and in others, not so. In any case it was heartening to see so many people enjoying themselves so raucously.

There were highly praised performances that palled on me after a few scenes, and others that I expected to be terrible that were absolute acting breakthroughs for the people involved. However, I will say that at the top of the show in particular there are several ear-splitting scenes, and I feared it was going to be an entire evening of shouting. It was not. 

Pappas as Kate dresses down Castellaw as her father, Baptista
Photo by Adriana Zuniga-Williams
 There are many moments of excellence, surprise and enjoyment, primarily elicited by the performances of Kym Pappas as Katherina of Padua and Steve Froelich as Petruchio, he who “comes to wive it wealthily” and so enjoys his taming of the “forward” woman that no one else will have. I’ve seen this actor many times but was absolutely blown over by this performance, which is fascinating, forceful and virile and delivered with a subtle glee. Pappas is indeed a nasty Kate: Just witness her treatment of her younger sister Bianca (Jamie Channnell Guzman) and her father, Baptista (Joel Castellaw), and then, her ultimate melting and delivery of the so-offensive-to-some message at play’s end, so intelligently and directly delivered.
Pappas and Froelich -- a hot team
Photo by Adriana Zuniga-Williams 

Director Carla Nell’s concept works – a modern setting with numerous cases of gender–switched roles – and so does the speed with which scene transitions are made, the minimal props, the modern attire by Alanna Serrano (Lucentio’s suit is a dream, other costumes, amusing) and the let-down table for the scenes in Petruchio’s household, ingenious (scenic design by Michael McKeon). Bare bones indeed, but it works, at least for this Shrew veteran.

The Taming of the Shrew continues through August 27 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard. More info at

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