by: Michael Bracken
Jeremiah Parker Hobbs sure knows how to play the guitar, and he does so with passion and vigor in The Last Time We Were Here at the Laurie Beechman Theatre as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He has a folk guitar strapped around his neck for almost all of the show. At one point, he switches to piano, which he also plays with finesse. He wrote the songs he and co-star Jessica De Maria sing, which tend to be catchy and melodic.
But watch out when it comes to words. Overly cute and sophomoric, both lyrics and dialogue are laced with references to how much pot Hobbs’s character, Jacob, smokes. OK, we get it. He’s a pothead. You don’t have to remind us every five minutes. And enough already with the rhyming couplets.
Hobbs is likable enough, even if his stray puppy persona eventually gets tired. De Maria is fine when her character, Grace, is talking or singing, but she otherwise tends to laugh a forced laugh or look at Jacob with overwrought, undercooked longing.
The program notes tell us that The Last Time We Were Here is intended for a cast of four but has been cut to two for the festival. Questionable decision. Supposedly overlaid on the story of Jacob and Grace is the story of Matt and Rose, a couple whose romance and correspondence is traced through World War II. With only two actors, it’s hard to get a handle on who or why or if Matt and Rose are.
Last Time’s plot, I think, goes something like this (not necessarily in exact chronological order). Boy meets girl. Boy and girl get together. Boy grows tired of girl. Girls grows tired of boy. Boy and girl grow tired of each other. Boy and girl split. Boy and girl get back together. Repeat.
Hobbs is attired in an intentionally ill-fitting (as in too cool for words) sports coat, worn over a striped collarless polo shirt. DeMaria sports a grey cardigan over a white blouse, the latter unbuttoned enough to showcase her ample cleavage. The set is appropriately spare: piano, well-stocked bar, standing microphone.
The New York Music Festival often includes musicals in the early stages of development trying to get their sea legs. Let’s hope that’s where The Last Time We Were Here sits. It has a long way to go.
Through July 27th. Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street. NYMF.org. 90 minutes (no intermission).