Love story told from the beginning and the end in 'The Last Five Years'
Two actors in a two-person musical — and they only meet once together onstage, at their wedding in the middle of the show.
The unconventional structure of Jason Robert Brown's “The Last Five Years” is part of the appeal of the musical being presented by Split Stage Productions at the Theatre Factory in Trafford.
Emily Hamilla of Uniontown and Josh List of Greensburg portray Cathy and Jamie, two New York 20-somethings who fall in and out of love over the course of five years. Cathy is an aspiring actress who hasn't had much luck finding work; Jamie is an up-and-coming author who gets his big break early in his career.
“What makes it very special is that you usually watch two characters in a relationship together on stage, and in this show the two characters are only in the same scene when their timelines intersect and otherwise, they tell their stories separately,” says Hamilla.
Cathy relates her experiences in reverse chronological order, while Jamie tells his story chronologically.
Director Laura Wurzell of Delmont says the general guide she has taken for the musical production is a quote from 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
Wurzell says the show is unlike any other project she has ever worked on.
“It is intimate, fun, joyous and heartbreaking — pretty much like relationships can be,” she says.
“Watching the beginning, middle and end of their relationship from both of their points of view, and forward as well as in retrospect, helps us to realize how complicated all of our relationships are, and how important honesty and communication are in relationships.”
According to List, the most intriguing aspect of this production is that everyone knows of someone or is that someone who had a relationship that failed — and there's always more than one side to the story.
“The original goal of this show was to get the audience to think and not be able to tell who really is to blame for the failures of the relationship and we are holding true to that idea,” he says.
“It's easy to stick up for your friend or family member who has been hurt by someone else, but the real challenge is to look at both sides. We give you — the audience — the opportunity to do just that. Don't take a side until you've heard the entire story.”
“The Last Five Years” premiered in Chicago in 2001 and was produced off-Broadway in 2002, when it won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music and Lyrics. A 2014 film adaptation starred Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.