Few theaters in Houston have as strong a reputation as Obsidian Theater. Winning the Houston Press Award for Best New Arts Venue of 2011 and Houston Press Theatre Award for Best Musical (Passing Strange) in 2017, the venue has continued to evolve, grow, and marvel Houston audiences. Its works reflect the versatility of its black box space — tackling shows like For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Was Enuf, Cabaret, Wanda, Daisy, and the Great Rapture, and its most recent production, The Last Five Years.
The Last Five Years — written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, who won Tony Awards for his work on Parade and The Bridges of Madison County — is such a thematically important piece of theater that causes us to confront fears of failure in ourselves, our careers, and the deterioration of relationships. In a way, The Last Five Years confronts cliched romanticism that permeates all too often through society.
The play starts with Cathy (played by Haley Hussey) lamenting the decay of her marriage to Jamie (Kiefer Slaton), as Jamie is conversely over the moon after meeting Cathy for the first time. The use of non-linear timeline through-out the play provides a haunting, if not brutal, snapshot that reflects how we internalize our own past experiences. We don’t think linearly, and the best and worst memories we have often roll right after the other.
This couple that’s vowed to love each other forever faces unexpected strife: the inertia of Cathy’s career as an actress, and Jamie’s soaring career as a writer — and the new women that enter his life through his new found success. From this conflict arises a disquieting idea for the audience: what the balance is between genuine enthusiasm for our loved ones’ successes, and feelings of bitterness that begin to form when we feel stagnation. A fight between Cathy and Jamie is followed by a scene before Jamie meets Cathy’s parents for the first time, and in seeing these contrasting moments of the past, we’re reminded of one simple message: people change. It’s cynical, if not honest.
Anyone who’s been in a relationship can relate to The Last Five Years. There’s a touch of irony to the play as we hear Jamie say to another woman, “I could be in love with someone like you,” just as he said to Cathy near the beginning. It reveals the cyclical and often tedious nature of dating, especially today where we have access to a plethora of dating apps.
Over the years, Obsidian’s interior has undergone a rapid change, priding itself on installing central air conditioning, railing, and new roofing. Perhaps the growing sophistication of their space is a metaphor for the growing heights their productions continue to reach. Joining Haley Hussey and Kiefer Slaton are a talented two-person chorus, Eddie Edge & Paige Thomas. Drawing from a myriad of genres including jazz, latin, pop, and folk, The Last Five Years is a musically stimulating experience that, if nothing else, will remind us of one thing: to enjoy what we have, because nothing is certain.
The Last Five Years has showings through July 14, primarily Thursdays through Saturdays.