|Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp|
|Britta Ollmann and Bobby Gardner.|
The artists behind the nascent FLiP! Theatre are fearless in their debut, and that makes for an invigorating and thoroughly entertaining entree into the local performing arts community. The company, the brainchild of producer Ben Bakken and director John Lynn, starts out by tackling Jason Robert Brown's complex and rich The Last Five Years.
The piece offers a number of challenges, first among them is the unusual structure. The musical traces a relationship via its two characters, but Cathy's story works backwards in time, while Jamie's moves forward over the five years they are together. He is a novelist who has found success at an early age (hey, it can happen) while she is a struggling actor whose biggest gig is a regional production of Fiddler on the Roof in darkest Ohio.
They almost never share the stage and the two only interact once: at their wedding midway through the piece. Think of it as a series of musical monologues, which puts plenty of pressure on the two actors to bring their A game.
Britta Ollmann and Bobby Gardner are up to the challenge. Ollmann has performed in New York and with Theatre Latte Da as the lead in the equally challenging Violet. Gardner is best known for his years with Brave New Workshop. Both do a solid job of not just crafting their characters, but showing how it fits in with the missing other half. Often, we see the same scene from both perspectives at different places in the show and both actors bridge the emotions between the spaces.
All of this makes for intriguing theater, where the rays of optimism felt on either side of the story are trumped by the oppressive air of failure. We know from the start that this relationship isn't going anywhere.
Lynn's direction is good, though the show feels static at many places. Even a little more movement would have helped to keep the energy flowing in these moments. Still, the overall work is a heartbreaking triumph that showcases the talents of the two performers.
IF YOU GO:
The Last Five Years
8 p.m. Monday, Thursday through Sunday
Through Nov. 10
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and information, visit online.
711 W. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis, MN