by Shirley Lorraine
Camarillo Stages The Last Five Years
Currently playing through September 10 on the Camarillo Skyway Playhouse stage is the Drama Desk award-winning musical The Last Five Years. The musical is performed by only two characters and is essentially two one-person shows being presented simultaneously. Book, music and lyrics penned by Jason Robert Brown tells a story of unfulfilled expectations based on his own failed marriage.
Jamie Wellerstein (Daniel Cohoon), a budding novelist, relates his story in forward fashion, walking the audience through their five-year relationship from meeting to dissolution. At the same time, aspiring stage actress Cathy Hiatt (Darrienne Lissette) tells her version of the story in reverse order – from the end going back to the beginning. The two follow distinct individual career paths that pull them apart instead of allowing them to work as a couple. They talk but they don’t communicate. The result then was no surprise.
In the early 2000’s the show garnered numerous awards and accolades. The approach is different while the plot points are intimately familiar. Performed almost entirely in song, the show by some definition, could be categorized as light opera. What little dialogue is present is used to accentuate certain incidents rather than explain what is going on between the characters. In fact, except for one song where the timelines meet, the two do not interact – they perform separately.
Because it is almost continuous singing, both actors are stretched throughout the show. The taped accompaniment was kept at a level that each seemed to struggle vocally at times to rise above. This resulted, for me (and a few others in the audience overheard discussing at intermission), in increased volume which then lost clarity. I was unable to make out quite a few lines that just weren’t clear. They were, however, loud. Musically, the score was nice although the song lyrics provided little variety in type or tone. One doesn’t go out humming the score.
Both Cohoon and Lissette do have strong voices and often pushed them to Voice-worthy pitch. For me, however, that doesn’t work so well in musical theater, especially when the story is told through the songs which makes catching the lyrics critical to the plot. Fortunately, the premise is stated in the program as I would not have been able to discern the two varying viewpoints without assistance.
Cohoon’s character of Jamie is given almost rock-star enthusiasm in contrast to Lissette’s more pragmatic approach. Jamie’s disillusionment over the five-year relationship is told in ways that make him sound whiny and self-absorbed (which Cathy alludes to in song). I felt that if both were presented with more sensitivity than power the impact would have been greater. Too, perhaps because the Skyway Playhouse has concrete walls, more careful modulation of amplification is required than of other theaters.
The bare-bones setting, designed by Director Eric Umali, provided no distractions which allowed all the focus to be placed on the two actors and their stories. Occasional projections on the blank flats offered generalized city background.
The Last Five Years runs Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. through September 10
Camarillo Skyway Playhouse
330 Skyway Drive, Camarillo
(805) 388-5716 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Adults $20, Students, seniors and military, $15, Under 12, $10