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Lessons of 'The Last Five Years' in Scottsdale

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Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years opened at Desert Stages' Actor's Cafe' this weekend featuring a tight, piano-cello-centered, on-stage quartet. Actors Jimmy Shoffman and Leigh Treat of the two person cast talked in Scottsdale this morning to Examiner about the messages their characters offer through raw exposure, full-hearted lyrics and bold music.

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With microscopic detail, the pop-rock musical examines intimate emotions of one couple's failed relationship. The wrenching twist of the story is watching Jamie Wellerstein (Shoffman) live his five years of love with Cathy Hiatt (Treat) from beginning to end while Cathy's trajectory travels backwards, from their shattered relationship through the previous five years to the moment she fell in love with Jamie. The couple come in contact with one another only once, a duet mid-show, in the no-intermission, 90-minute heart tug.

Shoffman describes the production as "an exploration of dependency." Jamie, an instant-success novelist, is truly in love but not as strong on commitment, according to Shoffman. "He's unfamiliar with fame, and just not complete in his relationship resolve."

For her part, Cathy couldn't place Jamie any higher on her priority list, but that whipped conviction is oddly damning. Said Treat, "Jamie has become Cathy's life. She's lost track of herself."

Early on, Treat had the audience eating Doritos out of her hand as she delivers lush, sustained phrases in 'I'm a Part of That,' embellishing the number with mimicked facial expressions and to-the-second comedic timing.

Sadly, however, the separate pieces of the relationship story become an exquisitely crumbling whole. By the end, Shoffman sang 'I Could Never Rescue You' like the melody is ripping his heart to shreds with guilt, love and regret. A good share of the audience cried right along with him.

"People at the show have come up to tell us they've found closure" in their own badly ended love stories, Treat noted. That's a soothing offer for what Treat calls a "divorce prevalent society."

Shoffman agreed that allowing viewers a window into the pains and desires of a struggling relationship from inside two sharply contrasting perspectives can be healing. "We can learn from their [Jamie and Cathy's] mistakes," he nodded.

The musical, which is based on creator Brown's own marriage, was recorded by the original New York cast, heavy Broadway hitters Norbert Leo Butz and Sherie Rene Scott. It plays every weekend through mid-May in the intimate Scottsdale theatre with an alternating cast. Next weekend Edgar Torrens and Barkley Romero don the complex Jamie and Cathy roles.

-Jennifer Haaland

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