Friday, February 20, 2009

Lily Tomlin, take two!

My second interview with Lily Tomlin is online at the Charleston City Paper.
Lily Tomlin Performs in North Charleston for the first time

Lily Tomlin Performs in North Charleston for the first time

She might be nearly 70, but no one who's seen Lily Tomlin perform her latest stand-up routine would know it. She bounces with the enthusiasm of a high school cheerleader, and her mind never stops moving, the jokes flying faster and packing more heat than bullets at a shooting range. Her laughter is rich and familiar, and comes frequently throughout the 35 minutes we spent talking to her before she embarks on a cross-country tour.

City Paper: Are there certain characters you've known who've stayed really close to your heart over the years?

Lily Tomlin: God, yes, most everything. Characters are like people to me. They're people who have these idiosyncrasies and I know them. They're like relatives.

CP: You've worked with a lot of really funny people. Are there people you haven't had a chance to work with yet that you hope to in the future?

LT: Almost anybody who's good I want to work with. I would like to work with any number of people who it wouldn't seem like I would fit in to their work, like Martin Scorsese or someone like that. I'd want to do something that nobody would expect me to do, but after a while you sort of get pigeon-holed. Like, it was a very big deal to go from Laugh In to a movie like Nashville with Bob Altman. Most would never even have seen that possibility.

CP: I was going to ask you about working with him. What was that relationship like?

LT: A Prairie Home Companion was just a great shoot, and Bob was getting chemotherapy every day and he was still Bob.

He was fantastic. And people would say, "What's it been like working with Bob? Is he different now?" And I'd say the only difference is he doesn't ride the crane like he used to. Bob was planning his next movie days before he died. Meryl [Streep] was going to be in it and I was going to be in it. It was called Hands on a Hard Body, where people compete to win a truck by keeping their hands on it.

CP: What made you decide to get out on the road now and do stand-up?

LT: I never stopped doing stand-up, one-nighters, or two-nighters. From the time I got on Laugh In, I had an act, and it was the only thing that kept me off The Match Game [a popular '70s game show that featured a regular lineup of comedians/actors]. If you had an act, you didn't have to take a regular job on one of these shows — not that there's anything wrong with that, but it sort of slots you in there. And because I had an act, I could go out and earn a living. I didn't have to take a job on a show where you had to be on every day. I always had my act and did 40-50 dates a year. I just always did that, and I'd work that around whatever else I was doing.

CP: A lot of people were really excited about Obama getting elected. Are you still feeling that sensation of hope and change?

LT: We're praying for it. I mean, even the whole Rick Warren thing, I can sort of buy Obama's justification about different points of view and so on. When I was on Laugh In, way back in the beginning, we were so political about the Vietnam War, those of us against the war. John Wayne was on the show and I wouldn't even be photographed with him. And then later Martha Mitchell came on, who was married to John Mitchell, and she was more of a victim of that administration, and I sort of snubbed her too. Later I read in her autobiography that she was so hurt by the way I treated her, and in retrospect as a mature person I regret those times. I wish I'd been more outgoing with them and found out what they think and why they think it.

CP: What changes are you hoping to see for America and the world in 2009?

LT: I'm hoping we can make some sort of connection with the rest of the world. How can you repair what the Bush administration has done? I just don't know. I'm hoping Obama's going to re-implement the Clean Air Act, and all kinds of things like that. They've sold off our national parks! They've done everything. There's no end to what Bush has done. And it's harder to undo than to do. I was so grateful just to have someone like Obama elected, because you hope that's a message to the rest of the world.

Ra Ra Riot

My interview with Ra Ra Riot appears in this week's WE.

Rising above adversity: Ra Ra Riot persevered after the death of their drummer in 2007, completing their debut album and initiating a music-oriented philanthropy project in the drummer’s name.

Rising above adversity: Ra Ra Riot persevered after the death of their drummer in 2007, completing their debut album and initiating a music-oriented philanthropy project in the drummer’s name.

Credit: supplied

By Andrea Warner

Ra Ra Riot’s humble origins are the stuff of dorm-room legend: college kids at Syracuse University, facing graduation and not sure what the future might hold. Most of them were on the cusp of obtaining degrees that had nothing to do with music when they began jamming together, discovering an affinity for Kate Bush, and writing their own songs. Six months after their first hometown show, they became the buzz band of the day — or, at least, of their campus. But it was a tragic accident that ended up launching them onto the mainstream media radar a month before they released their self-titled debut EP in 2007. After playing a show in Providence, Rhode Island, drummer John Pike disappeared into the cold waters of Wilbur’s Point. His body washed up the next day.

The group grieved and persevered, and are now on the second leg of a tour promoting their debut full-length album, The Rhumb Line, which highlights the band’s skill for combining a raft of indie-rock and Britpop influences with a chamber-pop flair (the band’s membership includes cellist Alexandra Lawn and violinist Rebecca Zeller).

Guitarist Milo Bonacci took a quick break from Ra Ra Riot’s U.K. tour to chat with WE.

How does one go from studying architecture to playing guitar in a band?
Milo Bonacci: Well, I grew up playing guitar. Architecture’s a more recent development in my life. I guess when the time came to choose between the band and architecture, I though I could be a 60-year-old architect, but I don’t want to be a 60-year-old rock star necessarily. It was really just, “Let’s do this now while we can, and we’ll figure out our careers afterwards.”

String sections have really found a place in indie-rock over the last several years. Was it a conscious effort by Ra Ra Riot to incorporate that sound?
It was really just the combination of people who were able and willing to spend some time devoted to the band. I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect in the first couple of weeks, but from the start it was really satisfying to have that palette of sonic flavours.

You’ve covered Kate Bush twice now. What’s the draw there?
Originally, we started playing “Hounds of Love” in those first couple weeks when we were first forming, because we just needed songs to play. (laughs) Working on covers in our time together was easier, in some respects, than writing songs, because you can only do that so fast. Very early on, that was a very common bond between us. We were all fascinated by her songwriting. She’s very much an inspiration.

Have you had a chance to meet her?
No, no. (laughs) I think that’s a long way off. I’ve never even considered the possibility.

What are some key mistakes that up-and-coming bands should watch out for?
The most important thing is to play music that you’re passionate about and that you love. The worst thing is when you see a band and nobody is that interested in the music that they’re making. You have to love it if you expect anybody else to love it also.

What is the John Pike Memorial Project?
Basically, it would be a network of musicians and songwriters that people could use to further their own projects or ideas, part of that being a lending library — a library of musical instruments people could borrow. The ultimate goal is that there would be recording studios or free places where people could explore their interests. Mainly, it would encourage people to explore their creative energies instead of smothering it before it starts. It’s sort of designed to further the energy John had as a person. He was the type who, if he had an interest in something, he’d go out and read every book about it, explore the subject, learn how to play the instrument. This would allow for that sort of process. If all goes well, something really great could come out of it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Belle Orchestre

My interview with Belle Orchestre appears online at
Belle Orchestre

Belle Orchestre

Belle Orchestre burns while Arcade Fire is dampened

Instrumental pop isn’t for everyone, but listeners who appreciate soundscapes upon which to scribble their own narrative have fallen head over heels for Bell Orchestre. The Montreal-based sextet released their 2005 debut, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light, while two of its members, Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld, were on hiatus from their other full-time gig with a little band called Arcade Fire.

Now, four years later — again while Arcade Fire is taking some downtime — Bell Orchestre is hitting the road in support of its second album, As Seen Through the Windows (due out in March). The band has upped the quirk quotient this time around, borrowing from plenty of styles to create an album that delivers a different experience on every track, from the Far East influences of “Elephant” to the spare, cold moan of Neufeld’s violin throughout “Icicles_Bicycles.”

Due back in Vancouver next week, WE talked with Neufeld, a former Vancouver resident.

You’re from Vancouver Island, but you lived in Vancouver before heading to Montreal, right?
Neufeld: I lived in Vancouver for a year, and I think I moved three times during that year. I was in the West End, the East Side, and Chinatown. It was one of those formative years. I used to work at Uprising Breads on Commercial, and I have such fond memories of that place. The former owner always wanted to hire musicians or artists or dancers — people he could just have a chat with, maybe not so efficient at mopping floors. [laughs] I was terrified on the first closing shift I had. This is a stupid story, but we would sweep and sometimes wax our floors, but I grew up in a country house — we didn’t have a mop. So, the first time I closed, they were like, “Okay, there’s the mop,” and I was like, “How do I do this?” All of a sudden, I was totally humbled.

What made you decide to pack up and go to Montreal?
Both of my parents had done that at that age. It seemed like a natural thing to do, to see a bit more of the world. I never backpacked around Europe or anything, but I felt like I should go to school, and I’d only applied to Concordia [in Montreal] and Capilano [in North Vancouver]. At that time, I wanted to stick mostly to violin performance, and I wasn’t interested in a hardline classical program; I wanted to choose faculty that would support improvisation on my instrument. It just felt more exciting and like I was moving forward [by going to Concordia rather than Capilano]. And my best friend lived out there and I knew a bunch of people who played in bands on Constellation Records.

In the chicken-or-the-egg way, did Bell Orchestre exist before Arcade Fire?
Yeah, but one of our first real shows, as Bell Orchestre, was with Arcade Fire, before Richie [Parry] was even playing with them. It was just this crazy party, and it was the first time we’d even seen them perform. Arcade Fire developed much quicker than we did, and it took us a long time to figure out we [Bell Orchestre] were even a band.

While you’re touring with Bell Orchestre, is Arcade Fire talking about recording a new album? Will you be caught in between both?
Yeah, I’m imagining it will be something like that... my gut tells me before 2010. I don’t drive the other ship, so I can’t really say.

Did you have any idea when you were younger that this could be the life of a classically trained musician?
My musical upbringing was so varied and confusing, I never felt like I fit into the classical world — I had just as much folk, and I did a lot of Irish stuff as a kid. The only way that my mom could make me practice was by playing this game where we would improvise and copy each other, so that was really what I wanted to be doing... I wanted to be in a band, and I quit everything at one point and was playing guitar and everybody was like, “You’re making the worst mistake of your life! Anybody can play guitar,” and the violin at that point was already an extension of my body. I’d been playing since I was two years old.

Violinists seem like good, proper people. Do you have a bad-ass side?
You’re quite right about the stereotypes of properness. To be a real classical violinist — which is why I couldn’t do it — you need to be completely devoted to it. Those people practice for five hours a day minimum, and maybe there’s a life outside of that, but I couldn’t do it. Am I a bad-ass because I have to have a life outside my practice room? [laughs] I don’t know. Sure. I’m a dropout violinist. I always want my teachers to see me with Bell Orchestre, but then I don’t want them to because my technique is all off. Like, my bow arm is totally lazy or whatever.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Push review

My review of Push appears online at

Starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning
Directed by Paul McGuigan
2 stars

By Andrea Warner

Superhero movies are a dime a dozen lately, but with the success of last year’s acclaimed cinematic marvels (The Dark Knight, Iron Man), aspiring “blockbusters” with smaller budgets need to puff up their flashy packages with brains, brawn, and big names. Push, the latest film to flirt with the genre, knows its limitations and thankfully opts for the quirky route.

Push opens on 12-year-old Nick, a second-generation “pusher”, who watches his father die at the hands of Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou — seen slumming here, but still a step above his last effort, Never Back Down), the leader of the Division, a malevolent organization dedicated to building on Nazi research to amplify psychic abilities through medical enhancements. Got it?

Of course, this means the Division is rounding up the world’s most powerful mutants to conduct their evil tests. Fast forward ten years and Nick (a charming Chris Evans) is one of several American ex-pats with super powers living in Hong Kong, trying to evade capture. He is approached by Cassie (Dakota Fanning looking like a teen prostitute from Ghost World), a 13-year-old “watcher” who can see bursts of the future, who enlists his help to save both her mother and the world.

A convoluted story follows, with plenty of tricks, twists, and turns to keep an audience’s curiosity piqued — if never truly enthralled. Some unusual villains, including a Chinese family full of powerful, brain-melting screamers, make for amusing moments, but stale dialogue and repeated use of the same tired flashbacks wares on the nerves.

Director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, Wicker Park) has never met a strange camera angle he doesn’t like (above, below, swooping crane), and alternates, seemingly without any reason, between rich, saturated images and grainy, hand-held shots. He does, however, have a knack for creative casting, with plenty of familiar faces showing up in unexpected places (Maggie Siff from Mad Men, Cliff Curtis from Whale Rider). All together, McGuigan’s vision ultimately nudges Push into position as an entertaining — if mostly forgettable — addition to the superhero/sci-fi cannon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


My piece on polyamory appears in this week's WE.

Are polyamorists sexual deviants  or the world’s most incurable romantics?

Are polyamorists sexual deviants or the world’s most incurable romantics?



participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships

— Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary

Other “kinks” have come and gone as the primary target of “polite” society’s moral outrage — homosexuality, orgies, swinging — and forged, in some people’s homes, an uneasy truce. Polyamory, then, might be the last taboo — possibly because many people can barely navigate the obstacles of one relationship, let alone several.

But, contrary to popular belief, people who engage in “poly” say they aren’t just in it for the sex — although that doesn’t hurt. True to their name, polyamorists have a whole lot of love to give (and take).

According to John Ince, co-owner of Vancouver sex shop the Art of Loving, poly people might just be the world’s biggest romantics. “Poly is really about relationships, an ongoing experience rather than a sexual connection,” he says. “I’ve done long-term monogamous relationships and long-term polyamorous relationship, and the poly ones are conducive to more intimacy... but it’s a lot of relational time. Time and work.”

Jillian Deri, a PhD candidate writing about polyamory and jealousy within the queer community, is also involved in poly relationships, and acknowledges the common misconceptions people have about it. “[People think] we’re just dating around until we find the right person,” she says, “or that we’re just promiscuous and can’t decide, or that we’re not committed. But, actually, poly people are usually more committed because they commit to more than one person.”

Pervading notions about polyamory label its practitioners as sluts or perverts. Internet culture does nothing to subvert that belief either: simply Googling the phrase “polyamory Vancouver” calls up sites devoted to BDSM, fetish nights, and a smattering of other kinky topics that might send potential polyamorists right back into the closet. And there’s precious little information available to those looking for a safe place to explore this type of relationship.

Ince, who published a book called The Politics of Lust, believes polyamorists are simply seeking a variety of intimacy, much the same way people favour variety in friends, food, and entertainment. “We encourage multi-loving in every area except the sexual dimension,” he says. “In our culture, the model is one romantic relationship at a time, otherwise you’re cheating. Huge numbers of people are practicing unethical [secretive] polyamory.”

Ince has been involved in poly relationships of various configurations for over 30 years. He’s currently involved with two women, and he says the key to a successful poly relationship is open communication. “It takes a lot of emotional sophistication to practice polyamory in a healthy way. That’s perhaps why relatively few people can do it. Most people don’t have high self-esteem and would interpret their partner’s interest in someone else as a rejection of them. The fact that I love having two women in my life does not say anything about my lack of attraction to one. It just says that I’m a very complex character and need a whole variety of stimulation to be excited and passionate and fulfilled.”

For Deri, polyamory is an affair of the heart, though she admits it’s sometimes easier said than done. “I feel that it’s definitely not for everyone, but I find it easier to give my heart when there’s an open aspect to the relationship, being more true to what I actually want.

“I believe we have this dichotomy between friends and lovers: only one lover and all the rest are friends. I find that having that boundary broken allows for more intimacy — a whole range of different ways to be with people.”

Deri admits an open relationship does force people to have to deal with jealousy head-on, but poly people, she says, choose to “work around it.”

“Poly people realize it’s not inevitable, it’s not intolerable, but in the culture we grow up in, there’s this idea that if your lover is with someone else, you’re going to be jealous, and the jealousy should stop whatever you’re doing,” Deri says. “Poly people tend to see jealousy as something you could feel, but you can get over it and move on. It doesn’t have to change your behaviour.”

In a world where hate, rancour and loneliness permeate all aspects of society, one could say that polyamorists are, in their own way, forging a path where love is all around. For those looking to venture into the world of poly, Deri suggests honesty as your best tactic for success.

“Find someone you can communicate well with and who you feel safe to explore with,” Deri advises, “and ask yourself a lot of questions about what you really want, and be honest. As soon as you’re really honest with yourself you can be honest with other people. Communication is the biggest key to making it work.”


My review of Skydive appears in this week's WE.

James Sanders and Bob Frazer take to the air in Skydive.

James Sanders and Bob Frazer take to the air in Skydive.

By Andrea Warner

Taking its second bow in three years as part of the PuSh Festival, Skydive, Vancouver playwright Kevin Kerr's aerial comedy, was written specifically for its two leads, real-life good friends Bob Frazer and James Sanders. As much spectacle as comedy, Skydive transcends traditional stage plays in that it's also a feat of engineering, literally making a quadriplegic man fly.

Kerr's script focuses on polar-opposite brothers Morgan (Sanders), a middle-aged loafer who couch-surfs and spends his time offering advice as an unlicensed therapist, and Daniel (Frazer), a brainy agoraphobe who can't get past his psychological traumas. Reunited in their mother's house after she's moved into a nursing home, Morgan tries to encourage Daniel to live up to his end of a childhood pact and confront his biggest fears by going skydiving.

Skydive tackles weighty issues like family dysfunction with generous doses of comedy, attempting to prove that laughter really is the best medicine. Sometimes it is; when the jokes work, they're often laugh-out-loud funny. But others, particularly in the first 30 minutes, feel as stale as the punch lines from an episode of Two and a Half Men. In addition, the last 10 minutes feel heavy-handed, with the play's themes of fear and lives half-lived getting shoved down the audience's throat.

Skydive's real triumph is that throughout almost the entire production, Frazer and Sanders seem to float through space, each attached to a long pole operated by mostly unseen hands. The duo really do appear to fly, and many audience members will likely be unaware that Sanders is confined to a wheelchair in real life. While the actors may not actually fly through the air with the greatest of ease, Skydive's brilliant machinations ultimately help this hit-and-miss comedy take off.

Broken Social Scene

My interview with Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning appears in this week's WE.
Band may not come exactly as shown: Broken Social Scene, in one of their many incarnations. (Inset: founding member  Brendan Canning.)

Band may not come exactly as shown: Broken Social Scene, in one of their many incarnations. (Inset: founding member Brendan Canning.)

About 10 years ago, two guys in Toronto got together and, a couple of years later, released an atmospheric art-rock album that was virtually impossible to replicate live as a duo. A few well-placed phone calls later, they had drafted in numerous friends on an array of instruments, ultimately creating a signature widescreen post-rock sound on follow-up album You Forgot it in People (2002) that would come to define Broken Social Scene. A sort of mother ship for Canada’s recent rash of successful indie musicians, Feist, Final Fantasy, Metric, Stars, and Land of Talk are just a few bands with roots in BSS.

A co-headlining gig with Tegan and Sara brings the ever-mutating collective back to Vancouver this week as part of the Cultural Olympiad. WE caught up with founding member Brendan Canning from his home in Toronto.

I heard you were walking the dog when I first called. What kind of dog do you have?

Canning: We got a little chihuahua half-breed, a little chihuahua mutt. He’s quite cute, and we got him a little black-and-white camouflage jacket for the winter. (laughs) He’s not like a little pipsqueak either; he’s a big dog.

What’s the touring lineup for BSS right now?

It’s sort of the same as last year. We’re going out as an eight-piece: Kevin [Drew], Justin [Peroff], Charlie [Spearin], Andrew [Whiteman], Sam [Goldberg], Leon [Kingstone], and instead of Liz [Powell] with us, who plays in Land of Talk, it’s Lisa Lobsinger, who was with us in 2006 in Vancouver. She kind of floats in and out of the band.

You’re playing with Tegan and Sara when you’re here.

Yeah. Who knows, maybe we can even steal those guys for a song. It’s on my to-do list to call those guys.

The band’s Wikipedia page is this pretty great who’s-who of indie music in Canada. It seems like everyone’s been affiliated with you at some point, and some of the most successful indie musicians of the last five years have had something to do with BSS. What draws you all together?

I don’t know. Just between all of us we know a lot of people, and I think our whole thing has always been to be really as inclusive as we can, and a lot of the time we’re looking for people. The last year of touring, in 2008, we were getting different horn sections in different cities, and different vocalist who we’d never met before. I think we just try to keep that up, and it makes it more fun for us. If the shows can vary night to night — I mean, especially with bringing in different vocalists, it’s always sort of a kick. You meet this woman in the afternoon and you do a little soundcheck, but then the lights go down you have no idea what this person’s about to do on stage or what their moves are going to be like. So, it’s always pretty entertaining in that regard.

Anyone who stands out for you?

There was this one girl in Taipei who was really great. There were a couple different singers in Mexico City who did really well. There was a girl in Singapore, it was practically like Broken Social Scene Idol. She was really, really goin’ for it. It was quite funny. At one moment she’d be grabbing Kevin by the sleeve and singing really close to him, and then just throwing him away at the end of her line and really being theatrical about it. That was pretty hilarious.

Are you venturing toward another BSS album? [The group’s last album came out in 2005.]

Venturing... I mean, we don’t have any real firm plans, but we’re definitely in the talking-about-it stage. Everyone seems pretty excited this year to actually make a record, but there’s just no point in putting any real pressure on us to do that. It just wouldn’t be as much fun if we say, “Alright, we’ve got an October release so we really have to get this record in the can by May so we plan for press.” I mean, Charlie’s got a record coming out next month called The Happiness Project, and Andrew’s got his Apostle of Hustle record, and, unofficially, Kevin and I are still touring our records [solo albums released as part of the Broken Social Scene presents... series). There’s a wealth of material, but I think we will try to bust out a couple new jams on this upcoming run.

The Constant Wife and Last Five Years

My review of The Constant Wife and Last Five Years appears in this week's WE.
Nicole Underhay and Ted Cole in Arts Club’s The Constant Wife, and (inset) Naomi Dayneswood and Jesse Donaldson in the failed-marriage musical, The Last Five Years.

Nicole Underhay and Ted Cole in Arts Club’s The Constant Wife, and (inset) Naomi Dayneswood and Jesse Donaldson in the failed-marriage musical, The Last Five Years.

Two very different plays sift through the rubble of crumbling marriages

Love (or something like it) is in the air on Vancouver stages right now, as relationship-themed plays compete for a little piece of your heart. It’s almost unfair that The Last Five Years, a small-scale Broadway musical (fighting against an uneven script), finds itself pitted against the witty and wonderful words of Somerset Maugham’s The Constant Wife. That, and Years’ tired depiction of a woman in love, feels so painfully passé when compared to the balls-out equality of Wife’s fierce females.

Wife, set in the 1930s (as depicted in a beautiful set from Ken MacDonald), unleashes its characters from conventional behaviour — these are rich people who play by a different set of rules — and tackles the three big Fs: fidelity, feminism, and fortune. Constance (a perfectly cast and sparkling Nicole Underhay) and John (Ted Cole) have been married for 15 years when rumours surface of John’s affair with Constance’s best friend, Marie-Louise Durham (Celine Stubel does the chirpy strumpet with aplomb). When Constance’s former suitor comes back into the picture, all hell breaks loose, and Constance proves that she’s no silent, suffering spouse.

Wife has been hailed by Variety as the precursor to Sex and the City, and it’s true, in that the women in Wife rule the stage. Martha (Moya O’Connell) is Constance’s self-righteous younger sister and a spinster, and both women are stifled by their brutally witty mother, Mrs. Culver (a divine Bridget O’Sullivan), a rich old woman whose words carry the same blunt force as a blow from a sledgehammer.

The bon mots and one-liners are delivered with sophistication, and director Morris Panych brings out the best in Maugham’s catty and astute asides. Panych also digs into the source material to hit the nail on the head of some of today’s taboos: seeking satisfaction outside of the marital bed, embarking on an open relationship, and seeing women as equals.

Women fair less well in The Last Five Years, a musical written by Jason Robert Brown and based on his own failed marriage. Jamie (Jesse Donaldson, vacillating between winning and annoying) and Cathy (bright spot Naomi Dayneswood) meet in their early twenties, fall in love, get married, and eventually break up over the course of five years, with each song representing a different stage in their relationship. Jamie’s gaining some major success as a new best-selling author, while Cathy’s doing summer theatre in Ohio and failing to get her big break as an actress.

Jamie’s story arc moves from first meeting to breakup, while Cathy’s tale starts at the breakup and moves backward to the couple’s first meeting. It’s an interesting conceit, but one that allows each characters’ flaws too much room to breathe, making it difficult to muster prolonged sympathy for either side. Simplistic characters — Jamie is the jerk who disappears, leaving only a Dear John letter; Cathy is the needy wife who’s hung her star in someone else’s sky — don’t help matters either. The Last Five Years is like watching friends who have no business being together break up for an hour and a half. You want to give them both a shake and then go get a drink.

As the audience traverses both sides of the story, certain songs allow for moments of genuine heart to shine through. “The Schmuel Song” shows a softer side of Jamie as he makes up a Christmas story for Cathy to encourage her self-esteem. “I Can Do Better Than That” shows some of the fire Cathy used to have, declaring she’s not looking for the proverbial white picket fence and desires a more complete life.

Many of Cathy’s songs paint her as a woman who is insecure, defined solely by her relationship with Jamie. (Brown’s former wife, on whom Cathy is based, threatened legal action if certain songs weren’t changed.) Conversely, Jamie’s songs are mostly self-involved, alternating between falling for Cathy and his burgeoning success as an author. Donaldson’s got a charismatic presence, but he does little work to keep Jamie’s cartoonish ego in check; his Jamie is prone to plenty of pelvic thrusts and rock-star antics. Dayneswood’s Cathy is appropriately sad and pathetic, but she infuses the character with lovely doses of defiance and vigour.

We should connect with the broken people singing sad songs in The Last Five Years, but the heart loves who it wants — and the women of The Constant Wife are irresistible: mind games, manipulation and all. After all, who among us would choose a bittersweet break-up tale when there’s the tartly delicious story of sweet revenge waiting in the wings?