Having previously seen “The Last Five Years” performed in 2014 at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, I was excited for another chance to see this bittersweet, two-person musical that is being performed through September 26 by the Eventide Theatre Company.
The show chronicles the failed relationship between Jamie (Beau Jackett) and Cathy (Rebecca Riley).
Revealing that their relationship is doomed isn’t, in this case, a spoiler since it’s revealed in Ms. Riley’s opening song, “Still Hurting,” while Mr. Jackett, on the other hand, sings enthusiastically about breaking his Jewish mother’s heart by falling for Cathy, his “Shiksa Goddess.” The reason for Ms. Riley’s despair and Mr. Jackett’s exuberance is that the story of Jamie and Cathy is told in the reverse by Cathy and in linear fashion by Jamie. The only time the two actors interact on stage is when their timelines meet—at their wedding.
What might sound like a gimmick is instead a vehicle that allows the audience to hear both sides of the relationship, as it’s both coming and going. And hear it we do. The entire story is told through song. Jamie is an aspiring writer, Cathy an aspiring actress. The pair seem to inspire each other at first but as Jamie’s star rises faster than Cathy’s, tensions surface.
Sometimes the songs are humorous, such as Cathy’s audition song “Climbing Uphill” and “A Miracle Would Happen,” Jamie’s song about being constantly tempted by other women now that he’s married. Most often the songs are about the highs and lows of the relationship and of how life can get in the way of love.
Music for the show is under the direction of Kevin Quill, who also provides piano accompaniment. The rest of the pit includes Heather Swanson, Chris Kerins, Naomi Steckman and Monica Grady. Instead of an orchestra pit the musicians are at the back of the stage, separated from the performers by a screen. Their shadows are visible onstage, creating a dramatic effect.
The stage is mostly bare; changes in lighting underscore the characters’ shifting emotions.
The opening night audience last week was appreciative for the chance to be back in person to enjoy live theater. Director Steve Ross acknowledged this happy occasion in his opening remarks, but also dedicated the show to two performers lost during the past 18 months: Gary Mitchell and Tim Hystad.
Mr. Jackett and Ms. Riley are both familiar local performers. Mr. Jackett was last seen on stage at Eventide in its February 2020 production of “Assassins,” the last live show at the theater before the pandemic. Ms. Riley performed as Scout Finch in Eventide’s production of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and as Ilona Ritter in “She Loves Me,” both in 2019.
The show seems custom made for this moment in history. It features a cast of two who, rather than come together, mostly circle each other on stage or perform individually. The theme of missed connections and love lost is also timely. We’ve all read stories of relationships that faltered during lockdowns. The story of Cathy and Jamie isn’t so much a cautionary tale as it is the story of a relationship closely examined from both sides. And who hasn’t had time this year to think over (and overthink) their relationships?
Written by Jason Robert Brown, “The Last Five Years” is a Drama Desk Award winner and was named one of Time magazine’s 10 best shows of the year when it debuted. “The Last Five Years” runs about 80 minutes and is performed by Eventide without intermission.
Despite no live performances since early 2020, Eventide remained present and productive throughout the pandemic. The company instituted a series of livestreaming short story readings; co-produced the new play “Teacher of the Year,” written by Jim Dalglish specifically for Zoom; and presented Lee Roscoe’s play “Impossible,” also performed virtually. The theater company also ran a series of drop-in readings of Shakespeare plays that were open to anyone with an appreciation for the Bard.
“The Last Five Years” is being performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and on Sundays at 2 PM. Tickets are $28 and available online or by calling 508-233-2148. Cash only is accepted at the door. Eventide Theatre performs on the Gertrude Lawrence Stage located inside the Dennis Union Church.