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Theatre Reviews: Carnegie's "Last Five Years"; Warsaw Incline's "Glengarry"

Glengarry Glen Ross is one of my Top 5 shows this season – a great reason to find your way to the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre (just a quick 15 minutes from the Northern Kentucky River Cities, over the river then basically a straight climb up Price Hill. It’s across the street from Prima Vista.)

David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winner is from 1984 and feels like today. Long before fancy leveraging and bundling bad mortgages brought down the economy, the playwright gave us a dumpy office full of second-raters cut from the same dirty cloth, making bad deals on Florida real estate.

Most of them are sweating on this day because somebody is getting fired. Who? Whoever doesn’t make the Board, the one listing sales.

The action starts with a series of dialogues in a Chinese restaurant. Desperate Shelly Levine (Joel Lind) is begging office manager Williamson (Mike Hall) for leads. Obnoxious young Dave Moss (Nik Pajic) is trying to talk schlubby George Aaronow (David Levy) into robbing the office and stealing leads. Ricky Roma (Mike Dennis) demonstrates the art of the deal to his hapless mark Lingk (Scott Unes).

In each case, one of the men does most of the talking, but the partnership is a beautiful thing to behold. Every actor is ever-present and the back-and-forth is a perfectly executed verbal dance. Dennis, Hall, Levy, and Lind in particular communicate who and why their characters are.

The next day, they’re in the office, which has been broken into, and Mamet ratchets up the air of desperation, with the salesmen questioned one by one by Tom Peters playing the kind of police detective who brings the temperature in the room down to freezing. And Lingk shows up wanting to cancel his contract.

It’s a riveting play that gets a terrific revival from the cast – a true ensemble – directed by Greg Procaccino, who concentrates on the rhythm of the words and the personal dynamics. His production outshines a lot of the Equity shows that have been on area stages this season.

The formula is simple: outstanding script, smart and sensitive director who knows how to cast performers who deliver the goods with total conviction. Getting it right? Priceless.

This Glengarry Glen Ross is a satisfying evening of theater and your reward isn’t just a first-rate drama in a spiffy new theater. The Incline Pub, a two-minute stroll across the street, is worth discovering, too.

Glengarry Glen Ross, through April 24. Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, W. Price Hill. 7:30 Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $26; $23 students and seniors. 513-241-6550 and www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com

The Carnegie delivers a solid non-Equity revival of Jason Robert Brown’s song-cycle The Last Five Years (pictured above), continuing through April 24. It’s about young, beautiful, and talented twentysomethings who meet, fall in love, then part.

The two-character show stars Wes Carman as Jamie, who tells their story in order from beginning to end and Cathy (Leslie Kelly), who begins at the end and goes back to the beginning, with the narrative moving back and forth between them. Their wedding comes in the middle.

Director Lindsey Mercer and music director Erin McCamley do admirable work. Having Carman (cello) and Kelly (piano) provide occasional accompaniment to each other’s songs is a lovely, emotionally resonating addition. Tyler Gabbard’s set is all doors and windows on the intimate playing space, a heart-tugging nod to coming and going and not coming back.

The show is a favorite with young audiences and artists (and those who first encountered The Last Five Years when it debuted in 2001 when they were twentysomething), what with the guy being a suddenly successful writer and the girl being a struggling actress, so that it nicely combines art and heartbreak and quarter-life crisis.

One of the best things about the melodic score is its range of emotions in lyrics that are as ordinary as the lives of Cathy and Jamie, while still speaking to their deeply felt love and loss.

The trajectory of the action is a bit of a cheat. Cathy spends the better part of the first act doing a summer stock gig in Cincinnati (really), which is charming but doesn’t give her enough input into what the heck happened to them while it was actually happening.

In fact, Cathy gets short shrift in the ‘who am I’ department, although it’s a swell role. In the second act, Kelly knocks Cathy’s funny, confidence-destroying, interminable auditions out-of-the-park.

Carman gets the more straightforward arc. Jewish Jamie is smote by his shiksa goddess, all of a sudden he’s on top of the world professionally, but by the beginning of the second act, he’s checking out other women, feeling victimized and ultimately sleeping with someone else.

In a celebration of the ability to compartmentalize, Jamie comes out to Cincinnati to wish his wife a happy birthday and let her know the marriage is over (I’m not giving anything away – this comes up early on as Cathy movies from end to beginning).

I gotta say, Carman’s Jamie responds to the break-up with Greek tragedy-level agony. It suggests Jamie is the drama queen of the pair and that he’s filing his feelings for later and his next book.

The Last Five Years, through April 24. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $28, students $21. 859-957-1940 and www.thecarnegie.com.

Reviews by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts