By Lynn Venhaus
Life and death. Lost and found. Weddings and funerals. The big picture and small moments. Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” mulls it all over, and a pliant cast grasps their roles astutely in a bittersweet production from The Midnight Company.
A family comedy-drama written in 1994 and presented in St. Louis some years ago by the Orthwein Theatre Company, its universal themes again connecting in the intimate space of The Chapel. Joe Hanrahan directed the current show, and the latter.
The two-act framework, at first, seems like a familiar scenario: preparing for a small wedding with chaos all around two sets of cousins. Is any family spared drama on special occasions? Not in my experience – but we’re one of those who puts the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional, so the turmoil is relatable.
And this family is indeed ‘off-center.’ “The Years” is resolute in accepting the quirky, with characters going through different phases of understanding through a 20-year period. As the two sisters Andrea and Eloise, Alicen Moser and Summer Baer suffer both in silence and then out loud. They are fine, delicate actresses who excel at their craft.
Their flakier cousins Isabella and Andrew are counted on to get things done, and Ashley Bauman and Joey File are terrific in comic relief as bossy, neurotic older sister Isabella and slacker, yet contemplative, younger brother Andrew. Newcomer File is the show’s breakout star, and one to watch.
It’s Andrea’s wedding day, but she is delayed by an inconvenient mugging that’s left her visibly bruised and emotionally battered. Meanwhile, her sister Eloise has problems of her own. They are both fragile, anyway, as they deal with their mother’s suicide soon after their father’s death.
They move on after that turbulent day, and 13 years pass. It’s time for another family wedding, and the cousins come together after struggling through the unpredictability of life. The last act takes place three years later, and this is where it stretched credibility, but it had me up to that troubling end, which didn’t feel like a ‘wrap up.’
The confident cast makes the most of a jagged little play, for they are a finely calibrated ensemble, smooth in their deliveries and comfortable on stage with each other.
In particular, the four cousins are convincing in projecting their shared bonds. While their lives intermingle, we get snippets of their characters through the skills of the performers – because the character backstories are slim.
Rounding out the cast, Michael Pierce and Joseph Garner may seem like interlopers, but their roles are anything but random. In only one scene, Pierce is assured as Eloise’s husband Jeff and Garner, a powerful presence in recent stage appearances, is a conflicted stranger Bartholomew, a lost soul that re-emerges throughout the play. He is prone to giving advice after life-altering events: “My life didn’t change – I changed my life.”
Hanrahan, a master storyteller on his own, has a knack for connecting people through art. A creative dynamo during the coronavirus public health crisis, he pivoted with original material, and keeps challenging himself and his casts with intriguing projects – well-known or new.
An experienced fight choreographer, Pierce (“Twelfth Night” by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and “Murder on the Orient Express” at The Rep) set up authentic confrontations.
Competent design work was handled by Brad Slavik on set, Miriam Whatley on props, and Tony Enselmo on lights. Liz Henning’s costume designs are always outstanding
While not profound, “The Years” is a thoughtful reflection on connection, curveballs in life, and how our lives are impacted in roundabout ways, and ever more relevant after a global pandemic shutdown.
The Midnight Company presents Cindy Lou Johnson’s “The Years” from July 13 to July 29 at The Chapel Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on July 16 and 23. Tickets are on sale at metrotix.com. For more information, visit www.midnightcompany.com
The Midnight Company’s 2023 season continues with extended performances of “Just One Look” July 19, Aug. 16 and 30 at Blue Strawberry; “You Made Me Love You” July 26, Aug. 2 and 9 at Blue Strawberry; “Humans of St. Louis” at the St. Louis Fringe Festival Aug. 15-21, and “The Lion In Winter” Oct. 5-21 at the .Zack.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.