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‘Last Five Years’ a bittersweet journey of love

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

A bittersweet production, “The Last Five Years,” is Justin Dionne’s farewell role as he prepares to leave Salisbury for graduate school in Florida.

His heart and soul are in the part of Jamie, a writer, a young man in love, a young husband, a husband whose love is not enough for his wife, Cathy.

Danielle Rhea’s Cathy is an actress who is ready for a commitment, and a career, and recognition and a husband who fills all the holes in her life.

“The Last Five Years,” directed by Tommy Foster, is told completely in song. Cathy tells the story backwards, from the end of her marriage to the first blush of love. Jaime tells the story forward, from the first time they meet until he leaves his wedding ring on the floor with a note.

On a stage dominated by clocks — as time moves forward and backward — the only time the two interact and sing together is at their wedding, as the two timelines meet, in “The Next Ten Minutes.”

There are so many poignant moments, and some funny ones, too. But at the end, sadness prevails. It’s a story of how love often isn’t enough and how people can be blind to other’s needs and flaws. It’s about acceptance and denial and making compromises. In this relationship, the compromises are uneven.

Dionne, who is also a musician and the managing artistic director of Lee Street theatre, reaches notes that are impossibly high and tender, and he manages to portray Jamie’s flip side, too, his selfishness and inability to understand what his wife needs.

Cathy needs him to be with her, not off doing Jamie things, not at a party with people she does not know, not always at meetings about his book. Why can’t he spend the summer with her in Ohio, where she takes unglamorous rolls in questionable companies. She sings a funny song, “A Summer in Ohio” bemoaning her plight.

The humorous but biting song, “See, I’m Smiling” is Cathy’s commentary. She loves him, but she talks about the “Jamie train” speeding away, and all the Jamie-centric things that she keeps smiling through.

Jamie is ambitious and successful, and not unaware of how the relationship is troubled. His funny song is “The Schmuel Song” about a tailor in a tiny town who wishes for time to sew a perfect dress. It’s Jamie’s gift to Cathy, along with a watch, symbolic of how she madly rushes through and implying he needs more time with her.

Rhea had a daunting task in taking this role after Karen Christensen left the production due to the sudden death of her fiancé. Rhea has heart and beautifully conveys her neediness and her desire for unconditional love.

Dionne combines Jamie’s cockiness with his need for total devotion.

You have to decide who is at fault, though Jamie commits what many could see as an unforgivable act, Cathy has a share in the crash.

The lighting by Chris Speer is exceptional; the set very simple, two docks, the floor painted like the ocean, perhaps indicating how they come together and how they fall apart. Speer and Kelly Price designed it.

An excellent band, led by Matthew Michael Brown and including Greg Pannell, Liz Burns, Alexandra Johnson, Zack Bammann and Clyde “Corky” Waugh, must get credit for the mood, as well as the actors, since this is a story told in music.

Don’t shy away form “The Last Five Years.” Enjoy Dionne’s performance and voice and get to know Rhea. It may prompt some difficult conversations, or it may remind you of how lucky you are to love and be loved.

The musical by Jason Robert Brown continues tonight and Saturday and April 28-30 at 7:30 p.m. at Lee Street theatre. For tickets, call 704-310-5507 or visit www.leestreet.org .

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