Who hasn’t experienced the waning of love’s first blush? The Last Five Years, directed by Michael E. McKelvey at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, follows the unfolding of a young couple’s relationship, withering over five years from ecstatic meeting to sorrowful parting. Only during his sweet marriage proposal does the couple harmonize. The play’s book, pop-rock music and lyrics are a semi-autobiographical account of playwright and composer Jason Robert Brown’s own failed union.
[jump] Jamie’s (Adair Watkins) perspective is told from beginning to end, while Cathy’s (Meredith Owens) version starts where it ends. There are countless stories about love and relationships, but this one lacks in-laws, siblings, children, friends or much action. The ultra-intimate, ill-fated tale, which is almost completely sung, is narrated by two people in a single setting, singing to each other about each other, with the moving accompaniment of piano (Ronald Joseph), violin (Sultana Isham) and cello (Gary Washington).
Jamie, who is Jewish, is attracted to Cathy, a Midwestern “shiksa goddess,” much to the distress of his family. “The minute I first met you, I could barely catch my breath,” he sings. Both are creative types - he is a writer and she an actress - and live in the heady, competitive atmosphere of New York City. Jamie’s ego is stoked when his novel is published. While his career quickly takes off, Cathy lines up for cattle-call auditions alongside hundreds of other hopefuls and tours with mediocre summer stock shows. A high point of the play is Cathy’s anxiously sung audition piece, “Climbing Uphill,” wherein her insecure inner dialogue is comically substituted as lyrics. Should she sing louder? Is the director staring at her shoes? Maybe she will go shopping later. She frets, “Why’d I pick these shoes / Why’d I pick this song / Why’d I pick this career?”
Cathy is more willing than Jamie to accept the ups and downs of the relationship, and he wishes other temptations would disappear. In awe of her husband, who when lost in thought withdraws to “Jamieland,” Cathy feels lucky to be a part of his success. Despite mouthing encouraging words, as in “If I Didn’t Believe in You,” however, Jamie is rarely there for her.
They struggle to be supportive. She becomes envious. He strays.
These fine actors are well suited to each other and to their youthful roles. Watkins appears egotistical and cocky. Owens, who did not seem worldly enough in her recent portrayal of Gypsy Rose Lee at Summer Lyric Theatre, is perfectly cast as the vulnerable yet plucky Cathy. Communicating subtle emotions of disappointment, longing and resentment through her delightful and expressive voice, her character is utterly believable.
“Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on ... And I’m still hurting ... Jamie’s convinced that the problems are mine ... And I’m still hurting,” Owens sings.
While his delivery is empowering and hers is endearing, the structure of the piece assures the outcome from the beginning.
The Last Five Years
Nov. 9-12, 16-19
7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, 616 St. Peter St., (504) 522-2081