The new Sightglass Theater Company was off to an inspired start in Napa last weekend with its inaugural production, Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years.”
The company, founded by Rob Dornaus and Keynan Burnett, filled the Jarvis Conservatory for the three-day run with a largely local audience cheering on the hometown group.
Burnett directed the production, which starred Dornaus as Jamie, a young writer for whom success comes at the cost of his marriage. Aubrey Mae Davis, a Sonoma native who has known Dornaus since their days at Broadway Bound Kids, flew in from New York to play the role of Jamie's wife, Cathy, in the two-character show that recounts the highs and lows of a love story that began and ended in "The Last Five Years."
Told entirely in song, alternating between the two principals, the award-winning work begins at the end, as Cathy, on a set where a few sparse pieces of furniture are shrouded in covers, acknowledges she's "Still Hurting" after the painful end of their marriage.
With Jamie's entrance, time shifts back to when the the two young people, he an aspiring novelist and she an equally ambitious actress, meet and fall in love ("Shiksa Goddess").
The relationship, begun with such joy, begins to unravel not long after they marry. His career takes off, and hers does not. He charges ahead -- John Updike reviews his novel in New Yorker -- while she is still touring and auditioning, as she recounts in two songs, "A Summer in Ohio" and "Climbing Uphill," that let Davis' comic talents shine. Jamie stumbles onto the temptations surrounding success, concluding that if "A Miracle Would Happen," all the other women in the world would lose their allure, except his wife. She, meanwhile, bitterly rejects the role of following "the boy genius."
The collapse of their marriage is the tale of love taking a wrong turn onto a hazard-filled road, with no way back. Dornaus and Davis, both polished singers, carry off the demanding score but bring to the roles, as well, the dramatic talents that make the story both gut-wrenching and familiar.
"It's about what tears us apart," said Burnett. "Currently around half of all first-time marriages fail and that percentage gets higher for the second and third unions. How can a culture that so passionately declares 'All You Need Is Love' perpetuate such an epidemic? … At some point along the way, whether by choice, habit or breeding, we forgot how to live for others."
The exquisite Jarvis Consevatory provided a perfect setting for this humane and touching production, made all the more special by opportunity to see the return of such talented natives. It was a highly promising beginning for a new company that left this writer, for one, waiting to see what Sightglass will do next.
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