LOGAN — The Last Five Years as presented by Panoramic Theatre at The Cache Venue left me with mixed feelings. The musical was written by Jason Robert Brown in 2001 and explores the five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a writer, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress. The idea that love is a two-way street isn’t a new one, but the old saying takes on fresh meaning in this bittersweet musical.
The show is constructed such that Cathy (played by Kennedy Oaks) tells her side of the story in reverse chronological order, beginning the show with the sad lament “Still Hurting” about how the marriage is over. Jamie (played by Chris Metz) then bursts on stage and sings about the beginning of his relationship with a “Shiksa Goddess” and then proceeds to experience the story chronologically. This structure lets us watch their relationship from both sides from beginning to end—and from end to beginning. The play is very raw and germane to almost every theatergoer. It is hard to find anyone now who has not had their lives touched by divorce, either their own or someone close to them. I think everyone can relate to the feelings of excitement in a new relationship in “Moving Too Fast” and “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” as well as feel the heartache as the relationship falls apart.
Oaks starts the show strong with Cathy’s gut-wrenching song about how her marriage is over. Oaks has a strong belting voice and takes on the part of Cathy well. I enjoyed her humor during the “Audition Sequence” and her giddiness as she the play progresses and her feelings work backward to when she was happy in love. However, Oaks missed the opportunity to have quieter and softer moments, to give contrast to her powerful belt. Also, there were a few places where it seemed that either Oaks or some of the quartet, was out of tune or off-pitch.
Metz makes Jamie is vibrant and energetic from the beginning, which made his descent into infidelity and depression more poignant. Metz has an excellent tenor and uses a the full range of his voice. My favorite moment of Metz’s was during “If I Didn’t Believe in You” because at that moment Jamie is still trying to fight for the relationship, but is being torn apart by the struggle. Metz really showed how frayed the character was at the moment by savoring the quiet as well as exploding in frustration.
As much as I love this play, there were some technical foibles that distracted from the performance that left my feelings a little soured. The Cache Venue is an intimate one-stop for dinner and a show, which is a bargain and makes for a fun theatrical experience. I love small, intimate spaces like this as it lets the audience really see the emotions of the characters up close. Almost all of the songs are sung directly to the audience with the characters only acknowledging each other in the middle of the play during their wedding as their storytelling overlaps. But problems arose from teh space. The set design is a simple with a backdrop by Stirling Brenna and a functional area with only a couch, a seat, and a small desk and chair. But generally, Metz and Oaks performed their songs directly to the audience using the front of the stage, which made it seem that most of the set wasn’t used at all. Additionally, director Caitlyn Jennings’s decision to use a fog machine for some unknown reason had little impact on the show, except for adding a little haziness and a lot of that fog machine smell.
The only other performers involved with The Last Five Years are the band, consisting of music director Zach Brown on piano, Anna Brown on Violin, Alex Schneider on Guitar, and Brock Cheney on bass Guitar. The preshow music was a relaxed jam session, which worked on some songs and was less successful on others. I think the band aimed for a laid-back feel, but it just the result was unpolished and unrelated. There were also some timing issues throughout the performance. Brown’s piano is certainly the steady guiding force throughout the show, but his lead was not always followed closely by the other performers.
So, like Jamie and Cathy’s marriage, this production of The Last Five Years is not perfect. This show is certainly for mature audiences, as it contains strong language and is performed in a venue where alcohol is served. There will also be a Valentine’s Day performance which includes dinner and the show for $30 per person. I don’t think I would recommend this as a “romantic” date-night suggestion, as it is a treatise on the modern tragedy of divorce and only contains about ten minutes where the characters are both in love at the same time. However, it is a thoughtful play that leaves the audience with complicated feelings, for better or worse.