The Last Five YearsPosted January 20th, 2015 by Sean Williams
Cathy should have understood something – something that she *will* understand later in life. Doing Summer Stock in Ohio is a win. That’s as good as it’s gonna get. It’s a job, it’s a chance to see part of America that she’s never been in before and she gets to stretch herself doing parts she’d never get in a LORT Theater. A shiksa goddess gets to play Anita in West Side Story? When is that ever gonna happen again?
Marlena asks us what Hebrew School is. Jordana says, “I went to Hebrew school, until I was 13 and then I had a bat mitzvah.” Marlena says, “Oh no!!! He said ‘as long as you’re NOT from Hebrew school!’ I don’t think he would like you, Mommy!” Jordana says she’s fine with that.
Barnaby gets stuck on why Jamie doesn’t have to re-write a single word. And he wants to know what “The Atlantic Monkey” is. I spent about ten minutes explaining how it works to be a writer, what it means to publish, who Sonny Mehta is, etcetera, before I realized that not only would all this information no longer be useful to him when he grows up, it’s probably all completely dated *right now*. So we talk about online publishing.
I remember it’s been six months since I wrote in my blog.
The first words out of Jamie’s mouth are betrayal. “I’m breaking my mother’s heart,” he says, acknowledging with glee the fact that he’s throwing out the things his parents value most.
Through the rest of the play, he cheats constantly. He leaves college early because he already has a publisher, all of his success comes ten years before he was expecting it, Cathy even says of him “the rules do not apply”… Even in his Christmas Story, Schmuel cheats death and time. And not to go down an musical rabbit hole but in that song, Jamie even cheats us out of one beat every four measures.
His rule-breaking seems to be done with firm abandon. Cathy sits in front of him sobbing and he says, “there are people who are publishing my book and there’s a party that they’re throwing and while you’ve made it clear that you’re not going, I will be going. And that’s done.”
He knows he has responsibilities to Cathy but he is simply not gonna address them. She even says at one point that she can’t understand how he can watch her cry and not do anything at all. When confronted with his responsibilities, whether to his family, his education, his wife, whatever it may be, he responds the way I and SO MANY of my friends responded in our twenties. He punks out.
Barnaby notices there are 41 seasons of dreams. He asks me if that’s not a mistake. he was supposed to go back 41 *years*, if he goes back 41 *seasons*, then that’s just slightly more than ten years. I tell him it’s not a mistake.
We play “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” a few days later and during “Here I Am”, Marlena – at four years old – says, “Is that Cathy?”
We come back to The Last Five Years later in the week. Barnaby notices that in “See, I’m Smiling”, something changes between when the song begins and the more lyrical section about a minute in. He wants to know why it sounds different. It takes me a second to realize, Jason Robert Brown’s moved from 4 to 3. It moves from hitting the quarter note on all four beats to an almost waltz feeling.
I’d never really noticed before.
So why does Cathy make us so frustrated and crazy. Why is it easy to see Jamie for all his faults but we still want to grab Cathy by the lapels and shake her?
She makes herself less, every chance she gets. Early in their relationship (late in the show) she tells a story of a high school friend who gets pregnant and married, and says that she can do better than that. Which is, apologies to my flyover state family and friends, a pretty damn low bar to set.
But as the two of them get closer, she’s perfectly happy to be mansplained at about Central Park, she buys a copy of his book in Kentucky and she mocks her successes. And when it gets too bad, she sings to “Daddy”, not even “Dad”. Even worse, though she claims that she “will not be the girl who gets asked how it feels to be trotting along at the genius’s heels”, she states very clearly that sitting in a room while Jamie ignores her is a thrill because she’s “a part of that”.
When he *begs* her to put on her dress and come to the party with him, we know she refuses. I didn’t write the show and I’ve never played Cathy (and likely never will), but it seems she can’t get over the gulf between his successes and hers. She sees his success as proof of her failure, to the point where he even says, “I will not lose because you can’t win.”
This, to an actress who keeps getting work. But, of course, it’s work that she’s mocked and made less of.
Every so often, a magical moment will happen with your child and it won’t be at a birthday party and it won’t be at a graduation or a dance or an award ceremony. It occurs not when you’ve set time aside for a magical moment. It only happens when you allow for great asschunks of time to be spilled out all over your kid. The magical moment happens for thirty seconds in the middle of 72 hours of yelling at them to stop teasing each other and to please pick up their shit.
We’d been listening to a whole string of shows and very often Barnaby seems to be daydreaming, chewing on his fingers and staring out the window. But a few days ago, after we turned off Into The Woods, he came out of his stupor long enough to say something.
“Dad, the more I listen to musicals, the more I learn about stuff. Not just music, not just how plays are made and music is created, but… The plays give me perspective on my actual life. There are people in the stories, and there are people who make the stories, and if you listen to the musical you can find out all sorts of stuff about all of them, the made up people and the real people. And that can actually tell you all sorts of stuff about you and your life.”
And I couldn’t speak for a second. I couldn’t say, “this is everything. What you said is everything.”
I’ve missed family trips to Disneyworld and countless bedtimes. I’ve run lines while washing their dishes and played scales while he did homework and sat revising scripts with one or both on my lap. Without me having to explain, he already knows why.
So Cathy makes herself less and Jamie cuts every corner. Both of them are annoying in their own ways, both of them embrace their own worst cliches.
And we love both of them because we were *so much worse*. It’s a gorgeous snapshot of being in love in your twenties, and it’s so hopeless and so beautiful and so perfect. I got married at 23 and divorced at 28, and I was about 200% more repellent than Jamie. And my ex was… Well, she was no Cathy.
I love them so much and I don’t want them to break up. My poor son and daughter, who’s hearts break every time they hear Sherie Renee Scott sing “Goodbye until tomorrow”… My heart breaks with them.
Why didn’t Jamie and Cathy wait? Why couldn’t they have dated other shmucks, why couldn’t they have married other stupid people before they fell in love with each other?
When the movie comes out, there will be regular people who love it (because Crying) and people who hate it (because Musical, and people are stupid), but please know that for many of us, our opinions will be deep and wide and *painful* to us. Because we felt the same way with Harry Potter, with Lord of the Rings, with Spiderman…
Because we were all eight once and we looked up from a comic book or pulled off our walkman headphones or closed the novel and said, “I know something I didn’t know before. What I’m holding in my hand, I didn’t realize, is some kind of window. I know these made up people and that means I know the person who made them up, in a way. And I know I’m a child, I know I’m not supposed to know what love means, but… I love this.”