2017-09-01 / On The Town

Daring musical looks at relationship from time-twisted perspective

PLAY REVIEW /// ‘The Last Five Years’ Acclaimed show looks at failed marriage
By Cary Ginell

NOW PLAYING—Daniel Cohoon and Darrienne Lissette appear in Camarillo Skyway Playhouse’s production of “The Last Five Years.” The show runs through Sun., Sept. 10. 
Courtesy of Krystle Newkirk NOW PLAYING—Daniel Cohoon and Darrienne Lissette appear in Camarillo Skyway Playhouse’s production of “The Last Five Years.” The show runs through Sun., Sept. 10. Courtesy of Krystle Newkirk Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy marries girl, boy and girl break up. There’s nothing unusual about this sequence of events, which is almost as common onstage as it is in real life.

But in the 2001 musical “The Last Five Years,” playwright-composer Jason Robert Brown decided to bend and pervert time, resulting in a fascinating look at what happens when two “Me’s” fail to become an “Us.” The acclaimed and daring musical plays at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse through Sept. 10.

The two-person show looks at five years in the lives of would-be actress Cathy Hiatt (Darrienne Lissette) and aspiring novelist Jamie Wellerstein (Daniel Cohoon). Jamie’s story proceeds chronologically, but Cathy’s is presented in reverse. A diagram of the plot would look like a large “X,” where each leg of the X reflects the mood of each protagonist, one going from high to low and the other from low to high.

In the beginning, Cathy is in the throes of the couple’s breakup while Jamie is falling in love with his “shiksa goddess.” Just before intermission, the two timelines intersect at their wedding, the only place in the show where Jamie and Cathy actually interact with each other.

In Act 2, they diverge once again, with Cathy’s mood getting brighter and more optimistic, and Jamie falling into unfaithfulness and resentment. It’s a remarkable story arc that shows what happens when two people refuse to give of themselves for the benefit of the other, resulting in a shattered relationship.

The play is almost entirely sung through. Brown’s songs run the gamut of moods, from breezy and irreverent to indescribably dark and forlorn, employing classical, jazz, klezmer, Latin and folk music styles. Jamie and Cathy take turns singing each number, with the wedding scene (“The Next Ten Minutes”) as the couple’s only duet.

Lissette and Cohoon are both engaging performers, and each has a powerful singing voice, but they are somewhat stifled by the decision to physically separate the two onstage, with each character performing on opposite ends, one walking offstage while the other is singing.

“The Last Five Years” can be presented in many ways, but in our experience, the most effective is to have the pair in proximity for the entire show. Sometimes they even effect costume changes in front of the audience, donning or discarding clothing to signify a different scene.

Because of the story arc, neither can look at the other nor react, which makes the moment when their stories intersect all the more remarkable, and even exhilarating, as their eyes finally lock on one another while dancing at their wedding. Having both actors onstage at the same time would also help flesh out each character, as they would have to invent bits of stage business when they aren’t singing. In CSP’s production, the show resembles a concert or song cycle more than a real musical.

The production’s prerecorded soundtrack also makes the show less personal. Using synth tracks instead of real musicians not only sounds artificial and dispassionate, but it forces the actors to follow automated tempos and cues rather than using their own instincts to create nuanced performances.

Despite all this, Lissette and Cohoon do a remarkable job in presenting this heart-wrenching story, one of the more unusual and thought-provoking musicals of recent times.

“The Last Five Years” is directed by Eric R. Umali with music direction by Jeff Berg and Susan Treworgy-Calkins. It runs through Sept. 10 at Camarillo Skyway Playhouse, 330 Skyway Drive, Camarillo. For tickets, call (805) 388-5716 or visit www.skywayplayhouse.org.

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