By Sarah Re
Love and relationships have been on my mind a lot lately, likely one of the reasons I chose to drive all the way up to Layton from Provo to attend this production at OPPA! (On Pitch Performing Arts). I worked on a production of The Last Five Years nearly a decade ago, my first Costume Design in NYC, and this amazingly poignant play carries a special place in my heart. Why do some relationships flourish, while other dwindle? Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years explores the rise and fall of the relationship between Jamie (Jake Holt) and Cathie (Larissa Pearson) from first date flutters to the bitter end. I realize that this is a spoiler, but it is the basis of the plot, so I’m leaving it here.
However, the characters are experiencing the relationship in opposite chronology; Cathie starts The Last Five Years at the end with “I’m Still Hurting,” a heartbreaking and honest moment where Cathie finds a letter from Jamie’s containing remarkably hurtful news. “Jamie is probably fine,” she sings as Jamie enters with first date jitters texting and primping for his date with Cathie. A lovely mix of realism and symbolic abstraction, the two overlap as you see both perspectives, both frustrations, both journeys, only ever interacting in one scene.
Pearson brings honesty, vulnerability, and sweetness to the role of Kathie, an openness that speaks to a rich inner life, a complex character. That complexity is carried throughout the show, and sweetly she sings through Cathie’s journey. One might ask why Cathie is moving backward while Jamie moves forward in time, does this indicate a naivete in her character? A movement toward innocence and hope? I have long wondered why Brown would make that choice, with some small resentment I might add. However, director Charlene Adams clearly understood the journey on which Cathie embarks upon as she processes what has happened over the last five years. Cathie winds back the clock, not out of naivete, but as a way of understanding what has happened to her, to them; it’s a way to let go of the man with whom she thought she would spend “the next ten lifetimes.” The difference in chronology speaks to the difference between men and women, the way in which women process and analyze differently than men. Pearson portrays this beautifully during the very last song, as she actively listens to Jamie saying goodbye and with tears in her eyes, she sings back to him “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.” A heartbreakingly beautiful moment, caught in the contradiction of new love and the adoration and passion that has faded.
Holt brings play, enthusiasm, and charm to the role of Jamie. It’s easy to get caught up in his excitement as life starts “Moving Too Fast” toward everything he’s ever wanted. “The Schmuel Song” is among my favorite in the whole show, and Holt does not disappoint. Full of fun characterizations and optimism, it’s hard not to smile and laugh alongside him. Holt also shows his vocal and emotional range during the pivotal “Nobody Needs to Know.” It’s an important song that seals in his fate, but also reveals the larger problems in the relationship and while I do not condone infidelity, you can’t help but feel for the guy. Yeah, you guessed it, I totally cried during that song.
There seemed to be some technical difficulty with the sound system, unfortunate for a musical, but both actors brought powerhouse vocals, nearly filling the space anyhow. My companion and I both felt the show would have been stronger with the full impact of the vocals as well accompaniment. However, the blackbox theater lends itself to an intimate experience with the actors, and we could hear well enough. The set, designed by Brandon Stauffer, creates a textural, visually interesting, yet neutral base on which the actors could truly shine. The actors utilize all of the space, a must when working with a thrust stage, and allow the minimal set to be crafted to the needs of the scene. Distorted photos of the couple flicker across the floor from time to time, symbolizing the fleeting nature of love un-nurtured. The projections symbolize the resentment, egocentricity, and distance that grow between the two in a simple yet effective manner. I also appreciated the lighting design, also by Stauffer. There is a great progression of warm ambers, disjointed greens, and cool blues with occasional effect lighting to highlight the emotional state of the characters. My favorite lighting moment was a use of the spotlights on the backdrop to resemble a full moon; not only was it a cool effect, but it added to the emotion of the moment in a simple, understated way.
Costume design by Amanda Larsen also reflected the emotional journey of the characters in a lovely, understated way. Cathie moves from dark, muted colors of the present into brighter, more vibrant tones as she recalls a life lived in Jamie’s shadow, which I felt symbolized the way in which emotions in memories can be stronger than reality. We vividly remember the snippets of the best and worst, rather than the monotonous days of even keeled contentment. Jamie alternatively begins the show in vibrant reds and gradually moves into grayscale, reflecting the vibrancy of and his passion for the relationship. This is strengthened by the return of red in “Nobody Needs to Know,” as he prepares to be “in love with somebody” even if it isn’t Cathie. The only exception to Cathie’s color change is the scene in the middle where they interact directly with each other where she is dressed in all black, an interesting choice that I believe speaks to the shadows of memory.
“We all have relationships in our lives. Those relationships have ups and downs. For me, The Last Five Years isn’t really about a relationship falling apart… It’s about each individual and how they perceive themselves in the relationship,” says Charlene Adams in her Director’s Note.
This heartbreaking, insightful, and darling production of The Last Five Years at On Pitch Performing Arts will have you laughing and crying and thinking about your own life, your own relationships. In world of “I”phones and selfies, where over 50% of marriages end in divorce, the subject matter is quite relevant. Whether you are a divorcee like me, you have a solid relationship, or you’ve not yet experienced true love, there are lessons to be gained from watching others make choices that pull, push, and move us. This production will not leave you as your step outside the theater. It is beautifully captured by this darling, thought provoking production.
On Pitch Performing Arts (OPPA!) presents The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown
On Pitch Performing Arts, 587 N Main St., Layton, UT 84041
February 8th- 17th, 2018 7:30 PM
On Pitch Performing Arts Facebook Page
The Last Five Years Facebook Event