Greenbelts Arts Center (GAC) returns to the stage with Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. GAC was quiet for nearly three years due to the pandemic. A large, rowdy audience welcomed performers back to the thrust stage.
Cathy (AnnaBelle Lowe) and Jamie (Matt Wetzel) challenged each other through song through five years of an often rocky relationship. Pianist Rolanda Brown and Ethan Hart on guitar and bass were flawless.
(There are two casts: Lowe and Wetzel perform on November 6, 12 and 18. Joshua Nettinga and Ashley Rudy perform on November 11, 13, and 19.)
There is no protagonist or antagonist in this musical. Director Meg Nemeth was presented with a challenge presenting this piece. It has a weak plot if it has one at all. That is not her fault, it is not the singers’ fault, and it is not the musicians’ fault. The blame goes to Brown. Critics have beaten the writer up for a poorly written play, and movie, for years. They also note the music is excellent. The same holds true for the Greenbelt production.
Nemeth says she tries to make GAC’s The Last Five Years simplistic. She wants the audience to find “relatable moments,” she says in her director’s note. “Relatable moments that make them so enduring we can all agree that Jamie and Cathy are only human. Those human mistakes are what make them connect to us.”
Lowe opens the production with “Still Hurting.” Cathy has just found out Jamie wants out of their crumbling marriage. She captures the heartbreak of a relationship ending, but accepts no responsibility for it. The song is very depressing, yet it is the opening number. Lowe knocks it out of the park.
The number sets the stage for Cathy to tell the story of her romance, and death thereof, with Jamie from end to beginning.
Too many of Lowe’s early numbers are depressing. Cathy is not allowed to grow. When scenes digress and she is happy and in love, Cathy seems happy about being loved, namely someone wanting her and accepting her. She is a struggling singer in the GAC production whose many rejections sour Cathy to rebuffs. This divorce may be the last straw for her.
Jamie is a Jewish novelist-playwright wannabe when he meets Cathy. She is a non-Jew, and that will drive his family mad. She laughs at his jokes and makes him feel smart, all the while constructing an ego she will come to hate. Jamie sells a novel at 23 and finds success, but his marriage takes a hit.
Wetzel sings his story from the beginning of the love to divorce. Midway through the first scene, Jamie realizes his marriage is on the rocks. Wetzel’s imposing “Moving Too Fast” should have been a warning to him.
Jason Kanow handled the lighting design. His mastery was evident as Lowe sings “I’m a Part of That,” in which Cathy recognizes how she spent more than a year supporting her husband on tour while her life/career was on hold. Some of the overhead lights are turned off toward the end of the number, then all are extinguished as the song ends, providing a powerful tonal effect.
Act I closes with the most positive point of the musical. Jamie and Cathy sing “The Next Ten Minutes” as they remember their walk to a gazebo in Central Park, where Jamie proposes. They marry in the same spot, and same song. It is the only time the duo meets during the performance. Everything else is he said/she said with either the lone stage or a single spotlight.
Jamie realizes his marriage is through in most of Act 2. Instead of fantasizing about sex with Jewish women, he is now committing adultery. In “Nobody Needs to Know,” Wetzel sings a tenderhearted melody that could be aimed at the women he is having sex with or himself. Jamie already knows, of course, and may be remorseful.
The story opens — ends — for Cathy with “Goodbye Until Tomorrow” as a giddy young woman thinking about this wonderful man she just met. On the other side of the stage, Jamie is writing a Dear Cathy letter explaining “I Could Never Rescue You” that he has closed the bank account and is preparing to divorce her and this is goodbye.
Running Time: One hour 45-minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Last Five Years plays through November 19, 2022, at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 pm; Sunday matinees, at 2 pm. Tickets ($27, general admission; $24, seniors and military; $14, children and students) must be purchased in advance online.
COVID Safety: All audience members wear a mask the full time they are in the building. GAC’s current COVID-19 Safety Plan is here.
The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown
Director: Meg Nemeth
Music Director: Rolanda Brown
Book Cast performing November 6, 12, and 18
Jamie: Matt Wetzel
Cathy: AnnaBelle Lowe
Clock Cast performing November 11, 13, and 19
Jamie: Joshua Nettinga
Cathy: Ashley Rudy