The Last Five Years lead actress Nikki Gil personally went through a tough breakup herself but it surely made her performance seem a lot more absorbing and profound knowing that she went through and survived almost the same kind of hell as her character Cathy Hiatt did.
The very realistic acting became very much apparent as early as the first few minutes of the off-Broadway musical when a visibly troubled and vulnerable Nikki tearfully performed “Still Hurting.”
The Last Five Years follows the rise and fall of the five-year romance between couple-then-husband-and-wife Cathy played by Nikki and Jamie Wellerstein played by Joaquin Valdes. Tagged as an experimental memory play by 9 Works Theatricals, this original theater musical explores not only the depths of a relationship sorely affected by successes and failures but also the minds of its audience as it takes them to and from the two character’s memories at a different time and space.
With the help of a leaflet of the couple’s timeline, the play’s structure has been laid clearly right from the get go. Cathy’s memories were recalled backwards starting from the end of their marriage to when they first met while Jamie’s was chronological which began when they first met to the point where he made a bad decision. Even if they were seen together onstage quite a number of times, Cathy and Jamie only actually met once at the same time and space during the 80-minute show when they got married.
With an intricate and risky memory play, 9works complemented it with a simple stage strewn with a bed, a table, a chair, and elevated frames seemingly representing the time that passed by for the two.
Though there were select scenes wherein the play got a little confusing and fast-paced for the characters to accordingly envelop their audience with the emotion before it shifts to another timeframe, small details and gestures of the two stars saved the day. Among them were the turning of the bed to represent the passing of time and the changing of the stars’ costumes every “year” to delineate where the characters are in their respective memory timelines.
Nikki’s character hits so close to home and she has effectively shown how she can utilize her personal experiences to breathe life to Cathy who has failed, held on, and survived. Even if she confessed to having a hard time displaying much emotion onstage, it certainly didn’t show during the parts when she sang “See I'm Smiling” and “I'm A Part of That” where you can sense every sadness of woman who’s very well aware that her marriage is crumbling. But despite such heavy plot, Nikki’s likewise shone in the lone light scene of the play where she comically portrayed a totally desperate Cathy in one of her auditions.
Joaquin, who has a personal life that is quite the opposite of his character Jamie’s, meanwhile quietly built his acting onstage and allowed it to explode during his most quiet yet affecting scene when he sang “Nobody Else Needs To Know.” He mirrored the aura of a remorseful yet tired husband who resorted into doing something he didn’t want to do but in one way or another was forced into such situation by desperation.
9 Works Theatricals ingenious take of The Last Five Years and the heartbreaking songs of Jason Robert Brown make for a watch to those hoping to make sense what went wrong in their relationships.
The Last Five Years, directed by Robbie Guevara, is 9 Works Theatricals fifth anniversary offering. It runs every weekend at Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati City until Sunday, August 31.