By Daniel Buckwalter

The unraveling of a marriage can, in retrospect, often be seen in the small things. A hurtful remark, thoughts left unsaid, all of which mushroom into a spiritual gulf that cannot be bridged.

The end had been building, and it’s those final nails — the divorce decree, the moving apart, the angst and bitterness that make every step seem like eternity — which drive home the point that, try as they might, two people could not form a union that could sustain itself.
It is sad, and tragic.

And it is played out on stage for one more weekend of shows at Pegasus Playhouse in Springfield, in the form of The Last Five Years, a musical by Jason Robert Brown that is sorrowful, yes, yet also a mature and unsparing look at two twenty-somethings who honestly try to build upon their whirlwind romance and create a successful marriage, only to see it fall apart through either mistrust of each other, self-absorption, or self-trepidation.

Cathy Hiatt (played by Lexy Neale) and Jamie Wallerstein (played by Esack Francis Grueskin) are the couple, and they tell their versions of the story through opposite tracks. Hiatt, a struggling actress, opens the musical looking backwards, lamenting the end with Still Hurting. She is embittered:

Jamie arrived at the end of the line
Jamie’s convinced that the problems are mine
Jamie is probably feeling just fine
And I’m still hurting.

What about lies, Jamie?
What about things
That you swore to be true?
What about you, Jamie?
What about you?

Jamie, a writer who has his first book published during the plot of the musical, follows with the beginning of the romance seen through his eyes in Shiksa Goddess, a playful account of being a player on the dating scene and trying to leave the Jewish tribe.

Yet it is Jamie, later in Act 1, who sings of the bewilderment that’s stirring in his head at how quickly his romance with Cathy has taken hold in the song, Moving Too Fast. It foretells what is to come for Jamie, if only he listens.

Did I hear an alarm start ringing?
Did I see sirens go flying past?
Though I don’t know what tomorrow’s bringing
I’ve got a singular impression
Things are moving too fast.

Cathy’s and Jamie’s stories intersect in the musical just once, at the end of Act 1 when Jamie proposes marriage and Cathy accepts, but the unique directions that Brown, the playwright, chooses for the characters in The Last Five Years makes it clear immediately that there are storm clouds.

In Act 1, for instance, Cathy sings I’m A Part Of That at the end of Jamie’s rollout of his first book. She’s not celebrating. She’s despondent. It is, I think, her realization that the marriage is over. Her acting career is going nowhere. Jamie has moved ahead of her, and she is frustrated, as noted even more clearly in Act 2 with the song, Climbing Uphill.

Later in Act 2, Jamie sings If I Didn’t Believe In You, attempting to reason with Cathy, to assure her that her career will take off. But there is a devastating line in this song: “I will not lose because you can’t win.” It is, I think, his realization that the marriage is over. He has more mountains to climb.

Also, is Jamie having an affair? Has he become self-absorbed with his success? Is Cathy, a small-town girl from Ohio, in over her head in the big city?

People frame memories in their minds and push their own narratives. The characters of Cathy and Jamie are no different, and The Last Five Years is a thoughtful look at how they reached a point where they have to start over — apart and alone.

Neale and Grueskin — who are engaged in real life — are wonderful actors in this production, and I encourage everyone to see The Last Five Years in its final weekend at Pegasus Playhouse in downtown Springfield.

The Last Five Years continues at Pegasus Playhouse

When: Evenings at 7 p.m. on June 28, and 29; matinee at 3 p.m. on June 30

Where: Pegasus Playhouse, 402 Main St., downtown Springfield

Tickets: Adults $20; students K-12, $15, available at the door or online at

Information: 615-300-4807,, or online at