Breaking barriers with song

by Lenise Willis

A romantic relationship might be the single most complicated aspect of the human life. It thrives on communication, understanding and a chemical connection, and without any one of those things, has little chance of survival. A relationship can elicit an entire range of emotions, from eternal bliss to heart-wrenching agony, which is why a relationship, from sweet beginning to bitter end, is the perfect subject for composer Jason Brown’s emotional musical, The Last Five Years.

Written from his own woeful experience of a failed marriage, Brown’s musical is certainly a poignant piece that commands both focus and a personal connection from the audience. The play, written entirely in song, follows the story of a couple’s last five years together, from meeting to getting a divorce. But instead of simplifying the story by following a linear plot, the play tells the couple’s history through two sets of eyes.

The wife begins the play singing about the pain of divorce and the confusion about how they got to that point. As the play continues, her story goes backward through their history until the point when they were a fresh couple riding on cloud nine. Meanwhile, the husband relays his account of their story, beginning with the puppy-love stage of their first date and ending with an adulterous solution before leaving his wife.

As in the real world, much of the couple’s story and complications revolves around each one’s developing work life: the wife at the end of her struggling acting career and the husband at a burgeoning success in writing.

The complication of hearing a story that criss-crosses between perspectives as well as moves forward and backward at the same time, forces the audience to focus not just on what happened during the relationship, but on the character’s emotions and inner thoughts — feelings that the audience can most likely identify with.

Tackling the role of the unhappily married couple in this twoperson play are No Rules Theatre Company’s Joshua Gray (Jamie Wellerstein) and Dorea Schmidt (Cathy Hiatt). Both actors not only have beautiful voices that command attention, but are each able to use facial expressions and inflection to reflect a moment’s humor, confusion, happiness or frustration.

Gray’s boyish charm and expressive enthusiasm matched well with his role as a young, new success who hasn’t quite learned how to handle being the center of attention. His strength lies in portraying the feelings and excitement of young, foolish love. In his most humorous moment, Gray sings of the frustrations of constantly being aware of breasts and of the women he can’t have now that he’s married.

Schmidt gives off the aura of a more emotionally-mature woman, but who is down-trodden about her own unsuccessful career.

Schmidt’s performance seemed to reach the deeper depths of pain, disappointment and loneliness. Of course, her role isn’t all sadness; in fact, she gives a hilarious performance when singing of her random inner thoughts during an audition. “Don’t look at my shoes; I hate these shoes. Why did I wear these shoes?”

Both actors play very identifiable characters to whom the audience feels they can relate and thus make connections with — a pivotal aspect of a play about human connection.

The fact that the two rarely interact with one another onstage leaves the audience somewhat empty and wanting. Viewers find themselves craving for the characters to connect, interact, communicate and share their feelings with one another rather than just the audience. At times it’s frustrating to hear both sides of the character’s problems but see no resolve. But, again, the play isn’t about what happened or what should be done, but rather about raw emotion.

Brown’s musical score complements the high range of feelings, and No Rules Theatre Company cut no corners when doing the music justice. Often times, the music is simplified to a two-instrument production; however Music Director Miles Mandwelle performed the piece more fully and closer to the original.

The Last Five Years opens No Rules Theare Company’s new 2011-12 season. The young group recently received the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company and performs in both Winston-Salem and Washington, DC. Co-Artistic Director Joshua Morgan said that The Last Five Years is a timeless story about people’s basic hunger for face-to-face interaction and love.

wanna go?

No Rules Theatre Company will Thurs-Sat at 7:30 p.m. perform The Last Five Years and Sat-Sun at 2 p.m. Saturday through Dec. 4 Tickets are $25 at Hanesbrands Theatre, 336.747.1414 209 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem