February 9, 2003

Oregon Cabaret Theatre production creates unexpectedly profound experience

Mail Tribune

"The Last 5 Years" is not your usual Oregon Cabaret Theatre fare. Yes, there¹s plenty of live music, singing, talented performers and a beautiful set ‹ all of which have become the hallmark of OCT productions.

But if you come expecting to yuck it up at over-the-top hilarity and silliness, you¹re in for a big surprise. And a pleasant one at that.

Jason Robert Brown¹s "The Last 5 Years" is the most deeply moving production I have seen at OCT. Its themes, direction, music and professionalism rank it among the most profound performances I have seen anywhere.

Director Mark Mezadourian Hughes has done a masterful job. So have costume designer Kerri Lea Robbins and musicians Darcy Danielson, Bruce McKern and Lisa Truelove.

The story is told exclusively through songs. These run the gamut of almost chamber-music elegance to anthems just this side of country and rock. It is a tribute to Wade McCollum and Melinda Parrett that they used their incredible voices to deliver the songs in context and not "showcase" them as set pieces.

We¹ve seen these actors before, but not like this. We¹ve seen this story before, but not like this.

The show starts with the refrain, "Jamie is over, Jamie is gone" and ends with "Good-bye until tomorrow." And there in hangs the tale of "The Last 5 Years." It is an excruciatingly honest window into the gradual build-up of a relationship that becomes a marriage then gradually erodes, ending in a painful good-bye.

It is told from his perspective and hers: He relates the story from the relationship¹s first giddy moments, she from its last, filled with hurt. The two stories converge in the middle with a beautiful duet, before moving to their inevitable conclusion.

This is the stuff of Greek tragedy ‹ the flawed seeking flawlessness. "Don¹t we get to be happy?" the confused spouse pleads. A huge picture frame encases Craig Hudson¹s stage set and crops the world out so we can pay attention to these two very needy people who desperately hope the other will fill that empty spot in their souls so they can carry on.

"I will never be complete ... I will never be alive" we hear them sing, almost as a chant to the imagined spouse they thought they were marrying. This play could just as easily have been subtitled "Great Expectations." So much is riding on what the other is supposed to be or do.

All of this is revealed in songs that give the audience the clues that the struggling couple on stage don¹t seem to notice. But time marches inexorably on. We see the face of a giant clock painted on the floor. There is a clock above the empty bed, and Jamie¹s first gift to his bride-to-be is a wristwatch that she wears at the wedding.

He wants to spend "the next 10 minutes" with her, stretching those precious moments into a protracted series of "the next 10 minutes" out into infinity. The word "love" is prophetically absent from this couple¹s vocabulary until 45 minutes into the play. We won¹t hear the "L" word for another 35 minutes. By then, it has been reduced to a rote, "I love you, too" at the end of a tense phone call.

While not all of us have gotten married at 23 and divorced at 28, we¹ve all been in one scene or another from this play. The "blame" for the ultimate demise of this couple¹s relationship falls on both of them equally, which makes the play all the more poignant. If it takes two to tango, it takes two to tangle. The tangle is staged with joy, laughter, anguish and all the stuff in between that makes for a full life and great theater.

Congratulations to everyone who had a hand in bringing this show to the cabaret. Would it be too great an expectation to wish that we could see more shows like this among the future offerings?

If you go

*    What: "The Last 5 Years," Oregon Cabaret Theater, Ashland

*    When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, with 1 p.m. Sunday brunch matinees (except today), through March 10.

*    Tickets, call 488-2902

Reach Tempo editor Richard Moeschl at 776-4486, or e-mail

The Last Five Years