The musical, “The Last 5 Years,” tells the stories of young lovers Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt from new love through a crumbling marriage — and vice versa.
Regional Theater of the Palouse Director Anthony Luetkenhaus said Hiatt’s story is told in opposite chronological order from Wellerstein’s. RTOP’s production runs through Saturday.
The songs begin as Hiatt, played by Kelli Barham, laments as she finds her husband’s wedding ring atop a note explaining he has left their marriage.
While for Wellerstein, played by Nate Barham, his songs begin triumphantly, after their first date, as he sings of how he has just met the women of his dreams.
In the RTOP’s latest “After Dark” production, the couple only acknowledge the other’s presence twice while on stage — the first time is during their wedding in the middle of the play, Luetkenhaus said.
From there, and almost entirely through song, the play builds the love of the fledgling actress, Hiatt, while stripping away that of the rising novelist, Wellerstein.
As with RTOP’s last musical, “I Do I Do,” the male partner is most responsible for the pair’s dissolution, Nate said.
“It’s hard to watch the show and not walk away thinking that Jamie is the bad guy,” Nate said.
Kelli said playwright Jason Robert Brown used the opposing narrative direction with the hopes of creating an audience without bias. Despite this attempt, and her character’s obvious flaws, she believes Wellerstein is the clear antagonist.
To liven this minimalist production, Luetkenhaus said he brought on a five-piece combo featuring a cello, guitar, violin, piano and drums. He said this is very uncommon at RTOP and the process of mixing these sounds live is a work in progress.
In addition to the unconventional script, Luetkenhaus said he designed a very abstract set.
He concocted an array of black platforms or varying height, ascending and descending, connected by small stairs and ramps — alll of which, he said, tell a representational story of distance and degree.
Hanging behind the stage and above the orchestra are clocks, which Luetkenhaus said illuminate the importance of time to this play.
For the actors, high school sweethearts 17 years ago in Clarkston and a happily married couple living in Moscow today, the play stretches more than just their vocal ranges.
“There are some emotions that you have to dig to reach,” Nate said.
Wellerstein’s emotions on stage stop just short of rage, he said, but reach as high as euphoria and as low as abject frustration.
Strangely enough, both actors have professional lives that mirror those of their on stage counterparts. Kelli is a vocal-instructor, actress and singer, while Nate is an English teacher and writer who has self-published two fiction books.
The comparison, however, loses footing when it comes to their relationship.
“It’s kind of fun playing these bizarro versions of ourselves,” Nate said.
The play premiered in 2001 in Chicago, and Hollywood took a mediocre stab at depicting it with actors Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan in 2015. All but Luetkenhaus have seen the movie.
RTOP offers wine and beer during these showings to those 21 and older.
If You Go:
What: “The Last 5 Years”
When: 8:30 p.m. today through Saturday
Where: Regional Theater of the Palouse, 122 N Grand Ave., Pullman