What do you call the reverse of a romantic comedy? A tragedy of spite and exhaustion?
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years borrows a smidge from the romantic comedy — emerging novelist Jamie Wellerstein and aspiring actress Catherine Hiatt show signs of having serious butterflies. The couple fumbles through the soft-focus afterglow of discovery. In the beginning, everything is sexy and even relational scrapes are adorable. But when true disappointment and violation disrupt the couple’s ideals, the marriage gets bruised and dented.
Denton Community Theatre opens Brown’s heartbreaking musical this weekend at the POINTBank Black Box Performing Arts Center, at 318 E. Hickory St. Actors Morgan Mabry Mason and Aaron White — both of Dallas — share the stage and tell the story of love gone cold in songs. When we meet Catherine, she’s stung by the end of her marriage to Jamie. He suffers the occupational hazards of novel-writing: self absorption, an ego that doubles in size with success and mood swings brought on by writer’s block and humorless editors. We meet Jamie at the beginning of their marriage. The two are shopping for a place to live, and wedding bells sound on the horizon. Song by song, the characters meet in the middle — he at the end of his rope, she in the first flush of their love.
Director Clay White keeps the staging simple, diving into the red meat of Brown’s Sonheim-esque score and mining it for all the colors of a love story. Brown’s music is all yellows and pinks at the beginning of the marriage, seeping into bluer tones — with flashes of raging red — as things go south.
White has kept the players on a bit of a leash, understandably so. Mason has to begin with the leaden lethargy of failure and gradually grows buoyant. White starts off at a gallop with “Moving Too Fast” and turns on a dime when Jamie navigates the snares of publishing. The biggest hindrance? Adoring young female readers who — of course — respond to his book by offering themselves body and soul.
For anyone who found the film Blue Valentine a feast of human frailty and flagging hopes, The Last Five Years delivers the same sandbag to the face. Sometimes, you see, love just isn’t enough.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Rated R for some language and mature themes. Tickets cost $15 and are available at the Black Box theater starting one hour before each show.
— Lucinda Breeding