THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown
Upright Theatre Co.
Artistic Director – Natalie Burkhart
Director – Michael Childs
Music Director – Michael Childs
Production Vocal Coach – Noël Clark
Stage Manager – Miranda Di’Amaro
Intimacy Director – Carlo Aceytuno
Scenic Design – Harrison Cawood
Scenic Carpenters – Harrison Cawood, Henry Cawood, Rich Cawood and Jeff Watson
Properties Design – Taylor Donaldson
Costume Design – Caulder Stapleton
Costume Stitcher – Carla Wicks
Lighting Design – Branson White
Projection Design – Natalie Burkhart
Sound Design – Steven Stapleton & Natalie Burkhart
Light Board Operator – Jillian deMontalvo
Sound Board Operator – Miranda Di’Amaro
Jamie Wellerstein – Shaun Senter
Catherine Hiatt – Mary Ridenour
Reviewed Performance: 9/11/2021
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The last play that my wife, Alice, and I saw in a theatre was “Come From Away,” a musical dealing with the aftermath of the horrific events of 9/11. That was in March of 2020 before the world closed down because of the pandemic. This last Saturday, September 11, we got to go into a theatre for the first time since then, sit with a crowd of masked playgoers, and experience another musical- “The Last Five Years.” I mention this coincidence because these two productions are linked, for myself, not only by this historical date, but by the quality of production. “Come From Away” shows the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of tragedy. “The Last Five Years,” wonderfully presented by Upright Theatre Co., shows two people remembering a marriage dissolved and all the love and pain and beauty they still remember as each try to go on with their lives.
“The Last Five Years” was written and composed By Jason Robert Brown and was first produced at Chicago’s Northlight Theatre in 2001. It was produced off-Broadway in 2002 and won the 2002 Drama Desk award for Best Music and Lyrics. Based on his marriage to Theresa O’Neill, the musical tells the story of their relationship beginning at the start and the end of the romance simultaneously. Catherine Hiatt (Mary Ridenour), a struggling actor, relates the story wrapped in the pain of the breakup and takes us to the joy and excitement of its beginning. We see the tale told chronologically from Jamie Wellerstein’s (Shaun Senter) point of view, taking us from the intoxication of romantic bliss to heartbreak of saying goodbye for the last time. The two characters weave in and out of each other’s memories and only come together physically at their wedding at the middle of the play. This structure makes for a fascinating, if somewhat one-sided, narrative flow.
The action takes place primarily in a New York apartment, cleverly designed for a compact theatre space by Harrison Cawood. With a bed and a desk onstage, additional chairs whisked on and off during blackouts and projections courtesy of designer Natalie Burkhart, we are credibly transported to the various locales Catherine and Jaime’s memories take us. Caulder Stapleton’s costumes provide a solid base for the actors as they add and subtract accessories show us who they were during this journey through the past.
Director Michael Childs has assembled an excellent cast and, since he is also the music director has enabled their singing and acting talent to brilliantly shine. The play is sung all the way through, with one brief spoken section as Jamie reads from his novel and another when Catherine is auditioning, and Mary Ridenour and Shaun Senter rise to the occasion with skill and emotional honesty. Director Childs has paced the show well and the minimal set changes are smooth and do not interrupt the flow.
I mentioned above that the play tends to be a little one sided. Jason Robert Brown admits to the play being autobiographical and having a certain point of view. Jamie seems to be saying that his wife didn’t understand him and was resentful of his success as a writer and that is why the marriage failed. That provides a rather convenient justification for some of his more dubious actions. The character of Jamie seems a little bit more fleshed-out than Catherine’s. Being said, these structural biases do not detract from the power and emotional impact of the play.
Mary Ridenour is an emotionally vulnerable Catherine. From the moment we see her on stage, singing the plaintive “Still Hurting” with pain infusing her voice and radiating from her face, to when she exits through the door with the song “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” expressing hope for a future we know will not last, Ms. Ridenour shines. I was impressed with her ability to win the audience over make us willing to join her on the emotional roller coaster she was on. She wonderfully conveyed comic frustration in the song “A Summer in Ohio,” a recitation of the perils of summer repertory theatre in the sticks and her earnestness in “See I’m Smiling”, where she sings of still wanting the marriage to work, breaks your heart. Mary Ridenour has a talent worth experiencing.
The character of Jamie gets some of the showier numbers, both vocally and emotionally, and Shaun Senter is more than up to the task. His singing range is impressive, and he is a skillful and subtle actor. Ranging from the uproarious paeon to the gentile woman of his dreams in “Shiksa Goddess” to the melancholy “Nobody Needs to Know”, where Mr. Senter weaves want and loss and guilt together into a stunning performance. One of the impressive aspects of Shaun Senter’s performance is that he keeps the character likeable and compelling, even when he is indulging in easy reasons for why the marriage is failing. It was a pleasure to be introduced to Mr. Senter’s work and I hope I get the pleasure to see him again in the future.
Upright Theatre Co. started up in 2020. In retrospect, I would think it would have been a horrible time to start any endeavor, much less a theatre company. With “The Last Five Years,” part of their 2020-2021 Season, they have proven themselves as a company dedicated to producing professional quality work with plenty of heart thrown in for good measure. I wish them a successful and fruitful future.
So, I heartily recommend “The Last Five Years” to any of you out there reading this review. This musical connects us to the emotions that all of us have known and, the last time I checked, that is what theatre is all about. There is only one weekend of performances left to go. Please check out this new theatre company and their wonderful production. You’ll be glad you did.
THE LAST FIVE YEARS
Upright Theatre Co.
Through September 18, 2021
2501 N. Main Street, Suite 210, Euless, TX 76039
For tickets and more information call 817-508-0203
Or visit on the Web at www.uprighttheatre.org