If two people who went to school together years ago run into each other, they usually express curiosity about what the other's been doing, even if they weren't particularly close as classmates. The family drama The Years depended on that principle of I'm-interested-in-you-only-because-I've-known-you-for-so-long: since the play lacked a sense of place and the characters were developed only in relationship to one another (sibling, cousin, spouse), the sole reason for the audience to stay invested in the story was that they'd already followed the family for so long.
Thirteen years pass between the first and second scenes of The Years, then another three years from the second to third (and final) scene. Whether the earliest scene takes place in the '50s, '60s, '70s, or '80s was not established by the clothing or any references in the dialogue (no one seemed to age, either). The entire story exists outside any specifics of the calendar or geography. Is this family from Middle America, New England, California, New York? Is their neighborhood posh or middle-class? This play was ill-served by the minimalist set, which comprised one bench, a small endtable upstage, and a couple of partition-size wood frames. It gave the "home" an austere, nondescript look that was inappropriate for a story about a close-knit family that always gathers there for special occasions.
The first special occasion is Andrea's wedding, which occurs six months after her mother committed suicide. In the next scene, Andrea's sister Eloise (Leah Bosworth)-who had been dumped by her first husband (Chris Soucey) the day of Andrea's wedding-is getting married again, while Andrea has just left her husband. In the last scene, it's cousin Isabella's marriage that is breaking up, just as her brother Andrew (John Rodgers) is honored with an exhibition of his photographs. Although the men that Andrea, Eloise, and Isabella (Duvall O'Steen) marry are never seen, one man keeps reappearing: Bartholomew, who robs Andrea the day of her wedding, rescues her just before Eloise's wedding and befriends her at the photography exhibit.
Does anyone in the family besides Andrew have a profession? Does anyone have a personality trait other than high-strung (Isabella) or wistful (Andrea)? Does anything happen to the women in 16 years other than one marriage and one divorce apiece? All these unanswered questions made for seriously underdeveloped characters. Oddly, though, that didn't completely flatten the production. It moved along at a decent enough pace, and by the time viewers realized not much was happening, the show was half over (it ran under 90 minutes, sans intermission). And maybe because everyone has relatives, the audience was compelled to feel some attachment to these folks and what became of them.
The tenuous bond between Andrea and Bartholomew was nicely rendered-right up until the final fadeout-by Christina Lynne Smith and Alex Emanuel. They appeared to be the most interesting actors in the cast, the rest of which worked hard but were unable to do much with their virtually non-dimensional characters.
(Set, Drew Spaggs; costumes, Lana Dormet; sound, Alex Emanuel)
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Copyright 2001 Adrienne Onofri