Sponsored by the Undergraduate Theatre Collective (UTC), Tympanium Euphorium’s “The Last Five Years” premiered Thursday, March 17. The Brandeis production of “The Last Five Years” was directed by Lilly Hecht ’18 and stage managed by Yennie Mok ’17, and their hard work, along with the entire crew of the production staff, produced a phenomenal show. The play also featured live music, enhancing the emotional intensity and overall quality of the performance as the actors’ voices and music combined in perfect harmony.
Written by Robert Jason Brown, the play is a musical about two New Yorkers who narrate their failed marriage, which lasted five years, from two very different points of view. This play uses a unique type of storytelling in which Cathy, a struggling actress, tells the story of the relationship in reverse chronological order, and Jamie, an aspiring writer tells the story in a chronological fashion. The two characters meet only once in the show, at the time of their wedding. Since the play was based on Brown’s failed marriage with Theresa O’Neill, O’Niell threatened legal action on the grounds that the character Cathy was modelled after her too closely. Therefore, Brown changed the song “I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You” to “Shiksa Goddess.” However, it is interesting to observe that Brown wrote the characters quite fairly in terms of who appears to have been the greatest factor in the failure of the relationship; perhaps even placing the majority of the blame on himself.
This play has only two characters: Catherine Hiatt, played by Rebecca Myers ’18, and Jamie Wellerstein, played by Derek Scullin ’18. As the story from both perspectives is narrated almost entirely in song, a strong and practiced singing voice is key. Fortunately, both Myers and Scullin excelled in their roles. Myers open the show with a sorrowful ballad, “Still Hurting,” as her character laments over the final break in her marriage when she finds that Jamie has left her. Demonstrating the impressive range and body of her voice, Myers reveals to the audience the devastating toll these last five years have taken on her character, Cathy. However, as soon as that song ended, the atmosphere of the set changed completely as Jamie, five years earlier, is seen bubbling with excitement over finding a girl (Cathy) with whom he is completely in love. With a rich and deep voice, though still able to utilize a wonderful falsetto, Schullin sings “Shiksa Goddess” as he is thrilled with dating someone outside of his Jewish background.
The play continued in this alternating fashion as Cathy moved steadily backwards through time, remembering the brighter days and Jamie moved forward, progressing toward the demise of their relationship. The one scene in the show where the two lovers do meet and are both happy in their lives is at the time of Jamie’s proposal and their resulting wedding. Myers and Schullin both delivered a fantastic duet and took full advantage of the only moment they shared, conveying all the love the couple had for each other as well as their hope and faith in the future. In this moment, one can see how all relationships, successful or not, reach a point where suddenly the two people will either accompany each other into the future or begin to diverge on their path, like Cathy and Jamie.
The concept of time in this play is an interesting idea to consider, as it symbolizes the very nature of Cathy and Jamie’s relationship. This theme of time is what captivated director Lilly Hecht as she spent her summer both in an internship and grappling over this production. “It occurred to me that to fully know the characters, plot and symbolism behind the show is to deeply and completely understand the couple’s relationship with time,” says Hecht in her director’s note. “They both undergo the same wear and tear of the same five years depicted in this show; however, the moments they elucidate, which they once shared, are now shown to us as mere memories, devoid of unity and wholesomeness because the two lovers were never in sync, even when together in the moment.”