With The Last Five Years, the plight of the Self-Obsessed Urban Hipster has officially been documented in every medium known to Shins fans. Whether the world needed a musical version of Annie Hall is a question I won't even attempt to answer here: My job is simply to assess how well Stumptown Stages handles Jason Robert Brown's material. And the answer is... about as well as can be expected from a medium-sized theater company in a medium-sized town. Solid talent, a whole lotta heart, and some truly atrocious production design.
The Last Five Years tells, in a loopy, nonlinear narrative, the self-pity drenched tale of Jamie (Dale Johannes) and Kathy (Sara Catherine Wheatley), an ambitious young couple in New York City. It opens with Kathy bemoaning the end of her relationship—she's not ready for it to end, she tells us, but Jamie has moved on. The show proceeds to revisit some of the highs and lows of, you got it, the last five years of the relationship, from the halcyon puppy love days to the jealousy and resentment that accrue as Jamie becomes a successful writer while Kathy's career stalls in the washed-up-actress lane.
Brown's lyrics manage to balance the maudlin tendencies inherent to a musical about romance with some astute observations about jealousy and possessiveness in male/female relations (though I gotta say, Kathy gets the short end of that stick).
There's virtually no spoken dialogue here, and the show's two characters only rarely address one another directly. Rather, they belt out song after expository song while wandering around a set of staggering conceptual banality. (One can only assume that Janet Mouser's round stage and round projection screens—upon which backgrounds are occasionally displayed—are intended to represent the turning wheels of time. Director Kirk Mouser at one point attempts to inject some dynamicism into the affair by having Jamie construct and mount a pedestal of the boxes that clutter the set. It doesn't really work.)
Both actors do a fine job: Wheatley's got a sweet voice and a knack for wry humor, though her upper register can be overpowering in such a small theater space. Johannes handles the show's big numbers with an engaging energy, though he flags when it comes to telegraphing more subtle emotions.
At an hour and a half with no intermission, the show can feel a bit punishing—particularly given the set of pipes on Wheatley—but fans of musicals probably won't be disappointed.