Review: 'The Last Five Years' is All About Time

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday November 22, 2021

Kira and Jared Troilo in 'The Last Five Years'
Kira and Jared Troilo in 'The Last Five Years'  (Source:Mark S. Howard)

Time's a tricky thing. Our perceptions of time can be elastic; the exact moment something, or someone, comes into our lives can feel like the destiny at work, or like a cruel twist of fate; and the way events align with each other sometimes works out marvelously — when, that is, things not connecting up at all thanks to a bare miss leads to catastrophe.

Jason Robert Brown mediates on these things in his musical "The Last Five Years," which recounts the love story between Cathy (Kira Troilo) and Jamie (Jared Troilo), a couple who meet in their youth, live together, eventually marry, and inevitably split. What's novel — and plays particularly to the meditations around time — is that we see the story pick up at the end with Cathy, whom we follow backwards through the years, while the story, as told from Jamie's point of view, moves forward in time.

In a nutshell, Jamie becomes a literary sensation just out of college; he's snatched up into the rush of celebrity and success, even as Cathy, initially supportive, struggles with her acting career and slowly becomes resentful. Cathy's perception is that Jamie is too self-centered and too caught up in the demands of his career to spend much time with her — her refrain across the play's suite of songs is a plea for Jamie to "come home to me" — but as Jamie catches up to the bitter end, he get more of his side of the story, which is that Cathy (who doesn't want to sit home and forsake her own career) is unhappy, in part, because he won't forsake his own success in solidarity with her professional failure to thrive. "I won't lose," he tells her, "because you can't win."

They both have a point... and not. They're both operating from a place of wanting both career and family, and while that's certainly possible with a lot of hard work and forbearance, when resentments color there's likely to be only one way things end up. Jamie is self-centered and distracted, and Cathy's accusation that he's unfaithful isn't without a basis in fact; and while we don't get much in the way of the details, it's obvious that Cathy's career brings its own stresses on the marriage.

Do these two characters love one another? Yes; but is that enough? That's the play's other driving meditation, and Brown doesn't shy away from either its hard questions or its hard-to-take answers.

Everything about the Lyric Stage Company's production of the play reflects Brown's concern with time, and timing, with the rotating stage (the work of scenic designers Jenna McFarland Lord) being patterned after a sundial and the furnishings speaking to the innate transience of all things. There's no furniture, but rather moving boxes that serve as tables and chairs and underscore the fact that these two people are perpetually, and literally, moving through time, as we all are; as Jamie and Cathy fall out of sync, they shift the boxes, their lives in a process of inexorable reordering.

Jared Toilo and Kira Troilo do their own time travel via a pair of stirring performances in which Cathy starts out from a place of disillusionment and heartbreak and grows ever more youthful and optimistic. Jamie, by contrast, begins the play as an excited, overwhelmed 23-year-old, before growing a little older, a lot more stressed out, and more than a little jaded... though that also comes with a sense that he realizes what it is he's losing, and what he's already lost, in the process of gaining fame and success.

Karen Perlow's lighting design emphasizes the couple's gradual estrangement along with their dreams of individual glory (spotlights play an effective role here). Director Leigh Barrett creates a sense of elegant, compassionate understanding in the midst of the show's emotional complexities, and brings an actor's insights to who the characters are, and how they change over time.

But it's the connection between real-life husband and wife Jared and Kira Troilo that sells the show's more poignant aspects. These two might not always pine for each other at the same moment, but the places from which they start... and where they eventually end up... involve yearning and regret that, natural as they are, still manage to seem surprising.

If there's a complaint to be registered, it's that the rotating stage, as notionally effective as it is, also creates a loud rumbling whenever it's in motion that competes with the music (which is a shame, given Dan Rodriguez' excellent music direction and the efforts of the live musicians) and with the actors' vocal efforts. They are not miked — the Lyric is a fairly intimate space, after all — but even so there are moments when the singing has a strained quality, and the extraneous, distracting noise of the rotating stage exacerbates this. If a tune-up or lube job can't quiet those cranky wheels of time, it might be worth reinvesting the show's more kinetic elements with the actors, allowing them to take on whatever extra movement choreography would make up for having that clock-stage (though not time itself) stand still.


"The Last Five Years" continues at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through Dec. 12. For tickets and more information, please go to .

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.