Love a person or love a career, but loving both can cause problems. That is the lesson for a young couple in “The Last Five Years,” Anderson University Theatre Department’s latest solid offering, this time in a nicely modified Byrum Hall.
The one-act musical by Jason Robert Brown tells the story of Jamie and Cathy in nonlinear chronology. It opens at the end of their five-year relationship with a beaten down Cathy discovering a note from Jamie; he is leaving her. A second later, a jubilant Jamie walks in singing during the pair’s first date.
From the opening’s split personality, the show unfolds is two directions. Jamie pushes through time while his writing career takes off. Cathy, going in reverse, struggles with her acting career while always worried about wilting in Jamie’s shadow.
Graphing the action, Jamie’s net worth would be steadily rising across the X-axis, while Cathy’s life would be plummeting fast.
Or maybe it’s the other way around. Towards the end, Jamie is the broken one, and Cathy is beaming after her first evening with Jamie.
It’s not as confusing as it sounds, really. The songs provide all the explanation needed. Most are sung solo, with one noteworthy exception when Jamie proposes marriage. It’s the one point on the graph where their lines converge.
Director Ronn Johnstone adds his own innovations to Brown’s show and music. Johnstone turns Byrum Hall into a stripped-down black box theater for “The Last Five Year” and puts the audience in about 100 seats on stage just feet from the actors.
Johnstone also doesn’t fall into the trap of over explaining the timeline. There’s no need to give a date or point of reference for each scene, because the story unfolds logically though song.
The other pleasing tricks are that Johnstone brings the musicians on stage, allowing Cathy to easily play off them. Because she’s an actor, many of her best songs work as theater gigs with the band playing her accompaniment. Her gripe about summer stock theater, “A Summer in Ohio,” is a letter home to Jamie, but here it’s also a performance complete with tap dancing that helps bring out the humor of the number.
That song and a later one about the woes of auditioning are two of “The Last Five Years” most memorable moments, largely because of SuzAnne Bradaric’s sharp portrayal of Cathy. Her cohort in the show is another AU alum, Jon Lambert, who sings out to become a strong Jamie.
As more experienced actors than the school’s students, Lambert and Bradaric bring a noticeable mark of professionalism, and it’s pleasing to have the chance to witness the hard work up close.
The show also marks the beginning of AU theater’s “Bottom Dollar” program. For every bottom that fills a seat, the school will donate one dollar to the Dove Harbor women’s shelter. In addition, individual donors are matching every dollar raised.
If you go...
Also at the Theatre on the Square, 627 Massachusetts Ave., Indianapolis, at 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15.
Tickets are $12 and $10 for military or seniors. For every ticket sold $2 will be donated to Dove Harbor women’s shelter.
For tickets and information call (765) 641-4351
— Barrett Newkirk is a reporter for the Herald Bulletin in Anderson. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.