What if you gave a war and nobody cared? This is the central question in Five Years Later, a post-9/11 dramedy that gets its timeline and its punch lines all wrong. Produced by Point of You Productions, this ensemble piece stars a group of self-absorbed caricatures who get bumped off one by one by an invading horde that they're mostly ignoring.
In the sitting room of a Manhattan apartment, WASP-y, wasp-waisted debutante Oblivia is busy fussing over the arrangements for a post-funeral party in honor of her late father. Already in attendance are lecherous, addled Uncle Kracklekraw and his ward, the fast-talking, gum-chewing teenager Gabriella. Expected to arrive are sarcastic, black-clad theater company directors Brian and Shamus, dumb blonde model Petunia, effeminate gay nurse Blane, butch lesbian personal trainer Bruna, hippie "spiritual adviser"/orgy organizer Love, and technology-addicted CEO Bill.
While it may come off as dismissive to use such easy adjectives to describe these characters, they are, in fact, described as completely here as they are in the play's 90-plus minutes. These are intentionally obnoxious and stereotypical characters, with echoes of No Exit-inspired personal dynamics.
The allusion to that Sartre play becomes more apparent when a group of well-armed marauders attacks New York City, forcing the group to stay in the apartment. But an utter disinterest in any subjects besides themselves, coupled with their dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, gives these misguided folks the courage to wrestle with the demons outside (the apartment) instead of the ones inside (their minds).
Yes, this lofty message is conveyed, but in a vehicle that doesn't have enough gas to go the distance. In order to make the point about working in deliberately broad strokes, the writer and director should work together to make the characters' behavior larger than larger-than-life, and their dialogue atrociously offensive. Jeff Love and Marc Adam Smith don't go that extra off-putting mile in their script, and since Love does double duty as director, he won't fix what he doesn't perceive to be broken.
Most egregiously, this cast–which, according to the members' bios, has logged a lot of hours in improv classes–spends most of the evening saying "no" to each other, breaking the Golden Rule of Improv ("yes and"). Granted, the script is responsible for their words and actions, but one of those playwrights is an improv teacher, no less. Rather than rebuff each other so often, why not have them misinterpret things based on their total self-focus?
Five Years Later is clearly trying to go for a larger theme, as spelled out in a monologue by the character of Love (who not-so-coincidentally shares the co-writer/director's last name): "Remember five years ago? When the crap hit the fan here? Remember what everyone was like when the dust settled? We were nice. We were helpful."
She wonders why it takes "a tragedy of historical importance" for people to get along. Yet in this show, when freedom and people's lives are at stake, the characters are not nice. They are not helpful. They do not get along. Is it this production's opinion that, five years (or, really, five and a half years) after 9/11, we as a species are no longer able to band together as we did back then? The message and the play are unclear.
It's a noble and awfully Pollyanna-ish approach to focus on the renewed brotherhood of man in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. But it's hard to love and respect your fellow man when he's a selfish jerk. Perhaps the message in this show shouldn't be about being nicer to each other, but being a better person in general. Some might argue that America's own myopia got these characters into trouble in the first place.