‘Last Five Years’ is a wrenching tale of a failed marriage at the La Mirada Theatre

If you want to see the birth, evolution and death of a love affair from heartwarming start to heart-wrenching end, you need look no further than “The Last Five Years.”Jason Robert Brown based the story and characters on his own failed marriage, and in many ways, the play retells a tale familiar to most via “A Star Is Born”: In “The Last Five Years,” Brown tracks the growing fame of novelist Jamie Wellerstein and the parallel professional decline of wife Cathy Hiatt, an actress, from their first date five years earlier to their final separation in the present.
La Mirada Theatre and McCoy Rigby Productions’ compelling staging of the 2002 off-Broadway show enhances the musical’s poignancy, a trait underscored by Brown’s structure: While Jamie’s side of the story is told chronologically, Cathy’s take is conveyed in reverse order, starting with her lament “Still Hurting” just after the marriage has imploded.Thus, as we first see Jamie (Devin Archer) as he grows more enamored of Cathy, then watch as his growing fame adversely affects his love for her, we first witness Cathy (Natalie Storrs) as grief-stricken, then struggling with marriage and career, smitten with her soon-to-be husband and, finally, walking on air over having found someone like Jamie.

★★&#x2605When: Through Feb. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La MiradaTickets: $20-$70.Length: 1 hr., 15 mins. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. (no intermission).Suitability: Adults and teens (for content and tone).Information: 714-994-6310, 562-944-9801; lamiradatheatre.com. 12. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m.
images that dissolve into a panoply of photos from the couple’s wedding day.Yet not all of “Last Five Years” is about the extremes of joy and sadness: Brown expertly interweaves the subtleties of every romantic scenario while adding plenty of in-jokes about the theater world.Standout performancesBrown’s triple-threat skills surface in the book’s deft detailing of its two characters, endlessly clever and inventive lyrics, and a score that draws upon a wide range of musical genres, including pop, rock, classical, jazz, folk, Latin and klezmer. They exit the boat and enter a heavily forested glade, showered with heart-shaped petals both actual and virtual.
Key sceneThe single common point at which the story lines intersect is in the key song “The Next Ten Minutes,” in which the couple take a boat ride in Central Park and Jamie proposes marriage. During “Ten Minutes,” the large upstage screen behind the couple first shows the waterway and its banks as the actors ride in a small boat seamlessly blended with the visuals. The absorbing effect of the structure is in itself enough to imbue that scene with complexity and meaning, but director Nick DeGruccio’s staging and the finely calibrated work of Archer and Storrs amplify its emotional intensity.So does Keith Skretch’s video design, as potent as any of this production’s considerably affecting elements.