Review: The Last Five Years at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission

Disclaimer: This production of The Last Five Years at Stillpointe Theatre is presented with two casts. I was only able to experience one cast and will be reviewing the cast I saw – Cast B, I believe (though my program stated I was seeing Cast A), consisting of Danny Bertaux as Jamie and Jessica Bennett as Cathy.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Baltimore has some pretty awesome theatre going on right now in intimate and larger theatre across this charming city, but in this particular go-round, Stillpointe Theatre‘s latest offering, The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, Directed by Darius K. McKeiver, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Heather Jackson, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl is superlative and is definitely a bit of theatre you do not want to miss.

The Last Five Years is about a five-year relationship between Jamie, a young, brilliant author and Cathy, an actress waiting for her break. It tells the story in an interesting way messing with the chronology as Cathy tells the story from end to beginning and Jamie’s story is from beginning to end. The two characters don’t interact much except for a song representing their wedding smack dab in the middle when the timelines actually intersect.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

After seeing a couple of shows at Stillpointe Theatre, I’m impressed with their unique space. It’s intimate, but it works for their purposes and Set Design by Ryan Haase has not disappointed yet. He really knows this space and his design is exceptional for this production. He uses what space he has wisely and his modern and minimalist approach adds great value to this piece. Blending nicely with Adrienne Gieszl’s subtle but intelligent Lighting Design, the set is a character of its own. There are two upper levels on either side add variety (and a place for actors to change wardrobe, if need be). Most of the space is taken up by the orchestra, and a few chairs and an old upright piano accompany the actors, along with a few odds and end along the perimeter of the stage, but that’s all this piece needs and Haase doesn’t overdo it with clutter. Once again, major kudos goes to Ryan Haase who has given us another innovative, creative, and modern design to tell a story.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux play Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Keeping with the modern/present day setting, Costume Design by Heather Jackson is smart and appropriate and does not hinder the action but helps it along. Both actors look comfortable in their wardrobe and each costume is fitting of whichever scene it accompanies. Some may think it can’t be difficult to costume a present-day piece, but, it’s a little harder than you think. There are many points to consider such as what is going on in the scene or what kind of personality does the character have? Jackson seems to understand her characters and has worked nicely with her actors to give an excellent Costume Design.

Please indulge me and let me take a moment to dote over Music Direction by Ben Shaver and the exceptional orchestra for this beautiful piece. Shave just got it. He had his cast sounding on point throughout the entire piece and his orchestra, whom he conducted as well, was just a superb. He understands this music and he got the maximum performance out of his actors. The orchestra, consisting of Ben Shaver on Piano, Trevor Shipley on Guitar, Cody Raum on Bass (standup bass, mind you), Livy Amouruso on Violin, and the dashing Steven Bainbridge on Cello fills the space with Jason Robert Brown’s music and are impeccably balanced with the actors, not drowning them out, but not holding back, either. They are well rehearsed and didn’t miss one single cue that I caught, anyway. It is an absolute pleasure to hear these folks in action.

Danny Bertaux as Jamie and Jessica Bennet as Cathy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Director Darius K. McKeiver does an outstanding job in telling this story. It’s clear he understands the material and he keeps it relatable and simple for the audience while still keeping the complexity of the situation apparent. His casting choices are creative and non-traditional using an interracial cast (and an all female cast) which is refreshing for a piece like this which is usually cast with a Caucasian man and woman, not to say that wouldn’t have been just as effective, but non-traditional casting is usually a pleasant surprise and it definitely worked for this piece. McKeiver keeps the action moving and the pace of this piece is flawless. There isn’t an intermission, but I didn’t even notice because the piece moved along so nicely. McKeiver has a good grasp on these characters and his guidance for this well-thought out and well put-together production is excellent.

Danny Bertaux & Jessica Bennet as Jamie & Cathy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

As Jamie, Danny Bertaux knocks it out of the ballpark with this one. He grasps the character nicely and comprehends his objectives and runs with it. Bertaux has such a big presence on the stage, he seems to overdo it at first, but the space is intimate, so it just seems that way so he balances out his performance as the piece progresses. The role of Jamie has its challenges, but Bertaux meets every one of them confidently and gives a stellar performance. Vocally, he is a powerhouse, filling the entire space with a rich tone and impressive range and it’s a joy to watch and listen to him in this production.

Jessica Bennet & Danny Bertaux as Cathy & Jamie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck

Taking on the role of Cathy, Jessica Bennett is exquisite. I was enthralled from the first beautiful note that came out of this woman’s mouth. She’s comfortable in this role and has a great command of the stage. She gives a strong, stand out vocal performance and her interpretation of each song is authentic and exudes emotion without going too far. I could feel Bennet’s pain or happiness in each of her numbers and she brings me into her performance, embodying this character of Cathy. It is a privilege to experience her solid performance.

Understanding the nature of this piece, Bertaux and Bennet actually don’t have much close interaction aside from a song or two in the middle of this piece. That being said, they both do such a fantastic job with their character and the material, I can feel their connection every moment from beginning to end, which is a feat as the characters are on different timelines and have a lot of solo work. The superb handling of this piece is a credit to these two actors.

Final thought… It is not my intention to over pander to this production but a good production is a good production and The Last Five Years is a show that needs to go to the top of your list of shows to see this season. It’s some of the best theatre happening in Baltimore at the moment and it’s a poignant, emotion-filled piece that is presented beautifully with an insanely talented cast and a superb orchestra to back them up. It is a minimal but complete and immersive production that is easy to relate and connect with and will touch you deeply. Get your tickets while they last.

This is what I thought of Stillpointe Theatre’s production of The Last Five Years… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The Last Five Years will play through March 25 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For information or tickets log on to stillpointetheatre.com or purchase them here.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow Backstage Baltimore on Twitter (@backstagebmore) and Instagram (backstagebaltimore)

 

Advertisements

Review: Grey Gardens at Stillpointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

logo

Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission

Looking on the bright side isn’t something everyone can do. Not everyone can find joy in the face of adversity but in Stillpointe Theatre’s latest offering, Grey Gardens with Music & Lyrics by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie and Book by Doug Wright, shows us there are folks who can. Directed by Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase, with Music Direction by Ben Shaver, Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris, Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo, and Lighting Design by Adrienne Gieszl, Grey Gardens shows that there are people who can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel and survive even when the world has forgotten them.

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

The cast of Grey Gardens at Stillepoint Theatre. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Some are very familiar with the Beale women and the documentary about an Easthampton mansion named Grey Gardens and some have never heard of such a place or this piece of Long Island history. I was introduced to the Beales a few years back when a very good friend described a 1970s documentary that I just had to watch about these two oddball recluses who lived in a dilapidated 28-room garbage and critter filled mansion with barely any utilities and engulfed in overgrown foliage in Easthampton among the well-maintained houses and lawns of the well-to-do and… I’ve been in love with these two oddballs ever since!

Co-Directors Danielle Robinette and Ryan Haase really captured the essence of this piece, which is survival and self-preservation, treating it dignity and respect. The relationship between this mother/daughter duo was so complex, they managed to touch on all the nuances such as the co-dependency and even jealousy these women had for each other. Their casting is on point and the experiment of using two spaces to represent to different times is a bona fide success. There is such a vast difference between the settings and time of Act I and Act II, it totally makes sense to use two separate spaces.

Speaking of spaces, Ryan Haase’s Set Design is, in a word, impeccable. He never ceases to amaze me with his original designs and this production is no different. Aside from being in two different spaces, the contrast between Act I and Act II is absolute and really compliments the story of these two women, not to mention, the attention to detail in Act II which adds tremendous value to this already superb production.

Another impressive aspect of this production is the phenomenal musicians in the orchestra. this orchestra is spot on in every number and has a very polished, well-rehearsed sound. Music Diretor Ben Shaver not only did a splendid job with the onstage ensemble, he managed to get together a top notch band including himself on Piano, Joe Pipkin on Drums, Stacey Antoine on Reeds, Billy Scaletta on Keyboards, and Andrea Gibeck on Violin. Kudos to each every one of them for a job well done.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie and Bobby Libby as Joe Kennedy. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

I can’t overlook the Costume Design by Kit Crescenzo as they are spot on and authentic, adding realism to this production, especially in Act II where the costumes are near perfect matches to the wardrobe the women wore in the Maysles Brothers documentary.

Working in such unique spaces, Adrienne Gieszl has to be clever with her Lighting Design and it is absolutely appropriate and befitting to the piece, setting the mood for each scene and number subtly but surely.

The ensemble for this production is dedicated and gives a brilliant showing. Bobby Libby makes a great showing as Joe Kennedy with his booming, smooth voice and good grasp of the character while Barney Rinaldi has a great command of the stage and gives a confident performance as the Bouvier patriarch, Major Bouvier. Jon Kevin Lazarus tackles the role of Jerry and his interpretation of this character is absolutely endearing and just made me want to give him a big ol’ hug. Rounding out the ensemble is Terrance Flemming as Brooks and Brooks Jr. and Anne Murphy or Kate Kilner-Pontone as young Jackie Bouvier and Avagail Hulbert or Compton Little as young Lee Bouvier, all who give commendable performances. Also, I’d like to comment on the Choreography by Lauren Spencer-Harris that was absolutely appropriate for the piece adding great value to the piece as a whole.

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Gould (Adam Cooley) at the piano and Big Edie (Zoe Kanter) signing as Jackie and Lee look on. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Three actresses lead this exquisite ensemble in this journey through space and time and Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale is played flawlessly by Zoe Kanter (in Act I as a younger Big Edie) and Danielle Robinette (in Act II as the older Big Edie that was immortalized in the documentary). Both of these actresses seem to really have a grasp on this character as Kanter plays her as whispy and carefree who values family above all, regardless of if it’s falling apart or not, and desperately trying to hold on to her only remaining child so she won’t be alone. And though Kanter is a bit stiff in her performance at times, almost as if she’s thinking too hard, she belts out her songs with a resonating and beautiful belt and she gives a fantastic showing. It’s also worth mentioning the great chemistry with Adam Cooley, who plays Gould, Big Edie’s ever-faithful accompanist, confidant, and friend and gives an admirable performance with a flamboyancy and flair I imagine the real George “Gould” Strong would have been.

Playing the role of older Big Edie in Act II, Danielle Robinette, couldn’t have played it better. With a brilliant make up job aging her to fit her character and her slouched posture and limping that was consistent through her entire performance made for a believable showing. Vocally, Robinette gives an outstanding performance, especially with the touching and tender “Jerry Likes My Corn.” Playing a somewhat iconic character can be daunting but Robinette takes this role and makes it her own.

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Christine Demuth as Little Edie. Credit: Rob Clatterbuck/Stillepoint Theatre

Last but certainly not least, there’s Christine Demuth who is the absolute highlight of this production. She embodies both a young Little Edie and the iconic older Little Edie from the iconic documentary, all the while, bringing her own interpretation into the character. Not only does she give an outstanding vocal performance, her acting chops are superb. The subtle but definite change in her character from Act I to Act II is seamless and she plays it to the hilt. The real Little Edie had a very distinctive accent (New England, for sure) and Demuth is on point. From the moment she steps onstage until the emotional “Winter in a Summer Town,” she had me hooked. Kudos to Miss Demuth on a stellar performance and I can’t wait to see more from her.

Final thought…Grey Gardens is poignant and compassionate look into the lives of two women time and everyone else seemed to have forgotten but who had the gumption to survive. Whether or not you are familiar with the original Maysles Brothers documentary, Grey Gardens, you will not be disappointed with this production. Stillpointe Theatre has managed to bring a fresh look and feel to this piece and is not only able to express the absolute quirkiness of the Beales with brilliant casting and set designs, but also the tenderness and tragedy of this overlooked piece of Americana. This is NOT an experience you want to miss this season. Get your tickets now!

This is what I thought of Stillpointe Theatre’s production of Grey Gardens… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Grey Gardens will play through February 4 at Stillpointe Theatre, 1825 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, go to stillpointetheatre.com for more information or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

Like Backstage Baltimore on Facebook

Follow Backstage Baltimore on Twitter (@backstagebmore) and Instagram (backstagebaltimore)