“The Last Five Years” is heartbreaking in that “we’ve all been there” sort of way.
The Cabaret at The Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis recently presented a concert version of the James Robert Brown favorite, which explores a failed five-year marriage from two perspectives, husband and wife, whose stories are told independently.
For struggling actress and beleaguered wife Cathy Hiatt, the timeline moves backward; her songs start at the end of their marriage and move in reverse to its fresh beginning. Aspiring author and at-times inattentive husband Jamie’s songs move forward in the chronology, bringing the audience through the relationship from first date to last goodbye. The timelines intersect for a brief but poignant moment in the middle with a duet about their decision to marry.
The show starts with a slow, intimate kiss between the two — for him, one of goodbye; for her, of hello. And for the audience, there’s empathy from the beginning.
Betsy Wolfe and Adam Kantor, who co-starred in the Second Stage Theatre revival of the show in 2013, build on one another’s energy despite having few moments in the show where they directly interact.
Wolfe shines as Hiatt, who takes second place to her husband’s budding career. Kantor ably plays her counterpart, husband Jamie, who struggles to balance the needs of his wife with the demands of his career.
The female lead in “The Last Five Year” is all belt, and Wolfe doesn’t disappoint. One of her finest moment is her opening song; “Still hurting” ends their story but begins hers, as she reflects on feeling “covered in scars I did nothing to earn.” Wolfe’s powerful swells coupled with quiet, reflective moments, genuinely reflect the myriad emotions that accompany the ending of a relationship. Her anger, bitterness, fear and grief are clear.
Kantor evokes just the right blend of courage and vulnerability, making him believable as the naive but mostly charming husband who eventually begins to give up.
There is just enough interaction between the pair during the solos to maintain a sense of connection, even as the dueling story lines move in different directions.
Jamie’s descent into despair as his marriage unravels is perfectly timed with Cathy’s memories that bring her back to the beginning, when all was fresh and new.
Wolfe shows the most character development throughout the show, with her opening songs marked by her anger and frustration, and her closing exuding the youthful levity brought on by love. She is at once girlish and strong.
Perhaps the most charming aspect of this show is its believability in the moment when the plot lines intersect, the couple’s engagement. It is painted with the perfectly imperfect paintbrush. The pair share hopes but also fears and shortcomings — it’s impossible not to see yourself in them if you’ve ever been in love.
Though their stories move in opposite directions, Wolfe and Kantor give just enough during the song transitions — a glance here, a gesture there — to tie together the plot. Every flirtation, and in turn, bit of tension, is evident to the audience.
The Cabaret at The Columbia Club welcomes artists from both near and far, presenting a rotating lineup of exceptional talent. For a full roster and ticket information, visit thecabaret.org.