Love and marriage
The Last Five Years
I confess that on the night I saw The Last Five Years at the Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall, I was ill and cranky. With a cold that was kicking my ass something fierce, I was not in the mood to see a musical in Carson City. But I stuck it out, tissues and Tylenol in hand. And I’m glad I did, because this is one of the most professional, impressive performances I’ve seen in Northern Nevada.
The show’s quality starts with Tony Award-winning writer/composer Jason Robert Brown. Brown based The Last Five Years on his own marriage to actress Theresa O’Neill, although her threats to sue him forced him to alter it slightly. The show was named one of the 10 best shows of 2001 by Time and won two Drama Desk Awards for best music and best lyrics.
Christopher James did a fine job directing this BAC version, and it’s a difficult show. The story’s structure is unusual; the script offers no stage direction, and musically, the show challenges even a professional singer’s abilities. The staging is minimal, consisting of two actor/singers, a small band of musicians, a video screen and a few small props. The actors don’t even appear to be in costume; only the story and music are the focus.
I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here by giving you the basic storyline. The characters are Cathy (Andie Anderson) and Jamie (Joshua Jessup). The show examines their five-year relationship, but with a twist: Jamie moves in chronological order, while Cathy is going backward. The only place they meet is, ironically, in the middle, on their wedding day. So while Cathy’s first song indicates she’s “still hurting” from their break-up, Jamie has just met his “Shiksa goddess,” Cathy, the woman he could fall in love with.
While Jamie’s career as a writer takes off beyond his wildest dreams, Cathy’s acting career never quite gets off the ground. While Cathy is stuck doing summer repertory theater in Ohio, Jamie gets wined and dined by publishing big-wigs and beautiful women. Enter Cathy’s self-esteem problem, Jamie’s guilt and frustration that Cathy can’t just be happy for him, and you have a relationship meltdown. The marriage ends with one interesting twist I’ll leave for you to discover.
In the last scene, Jamie’s packing his stuff while Cathy’s just ended her first date with Jamie. She’s hopeful, he’s done. It’s heartbreaking, and OK, I’ll say it … I cried a little.
There’s a lot to like about this production. The music is played by top-notch professional musicians: John Shipley on piano, Van Vinikow on violin, Johnny Lenz and Daniel Watterson on cello and Joe McKenna on bass. Anderson can really belt out those notes; her vocal abilities are showcased well here. While Jessup’s singing was off occasionally, his acting makes up for it. And the lyrics are great! They’re funny, moving, and most importantly, natural and real. Both Cathy and Jamie had their turn at being jerks. Both were right—and wrong. The fact that each one moves in a different direction helps you examine that. Whose fault was their break-up? Well, like most marriages, it takes two.
So although I unfortunately had to cough my way through most of the show, I was at least able to forget how sick I was for a little while. And for a play to take you away from yourself, even for a moment, is a fine accomplishment.