Saturday, January 24, 2015

Experience The Last Five Years

by Jenni Morin

Divorce can be devastating or a relief, just as the commitment of marriage can be binding or dismissible. In Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, now running at The Playhouse’s Cellar Theater through February 15, a relationship is on display to experience the rise and seemingly inevitable fall of one couple.

Reagan Wilson (Cathy) and Grant Bryan (Jamie) in
The Last Five Years at The Playhouse. Photo by Siggi Ragnar.
Jamie and Cathy tell the story of their relationship, the courtship, marriage and divorce, through inverse timelines and song. While Cathy begins the show at the end of the marriage, Jamie begins at their meeting. The two characters rarely interact on stage, except when the timelines intersect in the middle of the show for the wedding ceremony. As Jamie finds himself, Cathy loses herself and the telltale signs of trouble are revealed mostly by Cathy’s laments and resolutions and Jamie’s actions.

Director Chris Berry makes an impressive debut at The Playhouse with two powerhouse voices and a challenging piece. Their relationship feels like an everyday romance rather than an all-consuming love, which speaks to the essence of the script: this can happen to anyone. The actors, however, seemed hindered and their voices stifled, perhaps by their unnecessary microphones or the infamous fourth wall, lacking the jolt needed to truly penetrate the intimate space of the Cellar and deeply connect with the audience.
Grant Bryan, making his debut on the San Antonio theatre scene as Jamie, has an incredible voice, as does his counterpart, Reagan Wilson as Cathy. Together, the two bring the script and lyrics roaring to life with soaring ballads and catchy melodies. Although a little stiff at first, once settled into their roles, they become increasingly engaging. Musical Director Darrin Newhardt and his band meld nicely into the scenary and compliment Bryan and Wilson well.
The set by Ryan DeRoos initially seems utilitarian and cluttered, but actually makes a lovely commentary as the actors are surrounded by all the stuff, moments and memories that make up their lives and their relationship. The “cracked foundation” is literal and symbolic, nearly serving as a third character on stage. The set is subtly highlighted by Denisse Chavez’s lighting design while Paige Berry’s costuming aptly reflects the characters’ personalities.

Contrary to popular belief, the divorce rate is not increasing and if trends continue, only one-third of marriages will end in divorce rather than 50 percent, according to data reported by The New York Times this past December. While Jamie and Cathy only exhibit a few of the factors contributing to divorce, there are still several issues plaguing their relationship, such as Cathy’s personal insecurity and Jamie’s infidelity. Regardless, even after 14 years, The Last Five Years accurately represents what some might call an epidemic in modern culture. It’s certainly relatable, even without the divorce factor, as the experience of a relationship’s ebb and flow, arc of passion and ending is universal.

The Last Five Years may not be a hard-hitting social commentary, but it illuminates an often stigmatized subject as a fact of life, not an embarrassment or failure. The Playhouse’s production offers a healthy dose of cynicism, or thankfulness, just in time for Valentine’s Day and the release of the film starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
Anyone can relate to this musical, a truthful empathetic story with characters fascinating in their simplicity. Bryan and Wilson’s exquisite vocals make The Last Five Years a must see production guaranteed to captivate.

The Last Five Years runs at The Playhouse’s Cellar Theater through February 15 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit

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