'Last Five Years' offers honest, poignant view of marriage By Jane Holahan, Entertainment Editor email@example.com
"The Last Five Years, " which opened at the Ware Center Friday night and will run through Valentine's Day, is the perfect show for PRiMA, the relatively new arts group in town, which has been staging a lot of concerts and concert versions of shows.
An intimate two-person show, "The Last Five Years" tells the story of a marriage from its beginning to its end through songs.
While it would be easy enough to make this Jason Robert Brown show (he is both writer and composer) into another concert, director Dan Deal and his terrific cast, Kristen Brewer and Jay Poff as Cathy and Jamie, make it a fully rounded theatrical experience.
What makes "The Last Five Years" particularly interesting is both its honesty and its structure.
Cathy's story is told from the end of the marriage and moves toward the beginning. Jamie's story is told from the beginning to the end.
While Deal has intertwined the two actors masterfully, they are still in different places throughout the show. Jamie's joy and excitement at meeting "the one" fades as the show goes on, while Cathy's misery at losing her husband is replaced by hope as we see how complex the marriage is.
The only time they are looking in each other's eyes and feeling the same emotions is at their wedding.
And that's where this production takes a wrong turn by sticking an intermission in a show that is not meant to have one. It comes right after the wedding and it shakes the fragile path each story is taking.
The show opens as Jamie is packing a box and leaving his wedding ring on the bed. Our first introduction to Cathy is "I'm Still Hurting."
But then we see Jamie falling for Cathy and singing the very funny "Shiksa Goddess."
This back-and-forth goes on throughout the show as Jamie, who is a writer, finds success, while Cathy, who is an actress, is stuck in Ohio performing at a second-rate dinner theater.
Brown based the show on his own first marriage and while he tries very hard to be even-handed and gives Cathy a number of terrific songs, Jamie is the juicier, more aggressive character. That's not a complaint. It is what dooms their marriage.
Jamie expects Cathy to strive for success and be happy he has found his own. Cathy is frustrated that she can't get roles and that in his success, he doesn't need her. The initial excitement at his growing fame turns into jealousy and resentment.
Poff is marvelous as Jamie. Filled with energy and practically bouncing around the stage, he turns Jamie into a charming, irresistible semi-narcissist. He has a number of powerful numbers, including "A Miracle Would Happen" about his roving eye, the lovely but bittersweet "If I Didn't Believe in You," and the somber "Nobody Needs to Know," which seals the fate of their marriage.
Brewer has a less flashy role, but she's wonderful as a woman filled with frustration, loss and pride. "A Summer in Ohio," about the indignities of being stuck in a bad job, is hilarious, and "I'm a Part of That" is beautifully sad.
Because her storyline goes backward, there is sadness all around her character. We know at the end of the show, as she sings "Goodbye Until Tomorrow," after their first date, that their marriage will fail.
The three-piece band is striking. Andy Roberts is both the pianist and the music director. David Pedrick does a fine job on guitar, and cellist Melissa Brun adds stunning depth to the trio.
All together, the strong cast, the excellent music and the confident direction give this intimate show a wonderful richness.
"The Last Five Years" is showing at 7 p.m. today and at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday at the The Ware Center Salon, 42 N. Prince St. For tickets, $25, call 327-5124 or visit primatheatre.com.