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Theater Review: “The Last Five Years”

“The Last Five Years” plays through November 17, 2019 at Cygnet Theatre.
Photo credit:
Cygnet Theatre

Let’s face it, breaking up is a bitch. The smashed hopes, the realization that this isn’t what you’d hoped it was – it’s all a pretty depressing (though familiar) part of the human experience.

Playwright Jason Robert Brown illustrates the breakup phenomenon in a pop-inflected rock opera for two called “The Last Five Years.” It’s really a chamber opera with no dialogue, just songs -- but what songs!

Rob Lutfy expertly directs the piece, which plays through Nov. 17 at Cygnet Theatre.

Jamie Wellerstein (Michael Louis Cusimano) is a 20-something wanna be writer looking for a publisher. Catherine Hiatt (Racquel Williams) is a slightly younger aspiring actress, looking for that big break. The hook here is that Jamie tells their story from beginning to end; Cathy from breakup to first meeting. Their musical paths cross at their wedding.

Cathy had me at the first song, “I’m Still Hurting,” which includes these lines:

            Jamie arrived at the end of the line

            Jamie’s convinced that the problems are mine

            Jamie is probably feeling just fine

            And I’m still hurting.

Meanwhile, Jamie (five years earlier) rhapsodizes about meeting his “Shiksa Goddess,” whose main attraction seems to be that she is “not from Hebrew school.”

One huge problem for these two is their different professional trajectories. Jamie is named a rising literary star when the “Atlantic” publishes the first chapter of his novel, leading to an endless and exciting (to him) round of book tours and readings. Meanwhile, Cathy goes to one fruitless and dispiriting audition after another, finally settling for summer stock in Ohio. Soon he will start to blame her for not trying hard enough, and the end will become inevitable.

Lutfy has a terrific cast and design crew for the show. The stage is littered with boxes; papers are seen everywhere. Michael Mizerany gives the actors moves to reflect their psyches.

Cusimano, a local favorite since his move here from New York, is perfectly cast as Jamie, with just the right look and a wonderfully mellifluous tenor voice. He’s also an excellent actor.

New Yorker Williams’ Cathy is a good match for Cusimano, with a gorgeous mezzo voice, a delivery that makes you pay attention, and an extremely engaging presence.

Patrick Marion’s six-member band provides fine accompaniment and these two excellent singers do the rest.

This show was inspired by a breakup the playwright suffered. Perhaps that’s why it seems so achingly true. Breaking up is never fun, but you’ll find something to relate to in “The Last Five Years.”

The details

“The Last Five Years” plays through November 17, 2019 at Cygnet Theatre,

4040 Twiggs Street in Old Town.

Showtimes: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.