The Last Five Years at once a discovery and postmortem of a relationship

“What’s fascinating is how success can be a great dealbreaker… [When you get married] you think about the rough stuff – ‘I’ll be there for you if you get sick or we’re broke’ – and you don’t think success will be an issue. But I think that’s probably more the issue for breakups than the hard times. ” As soon as Theatre Network‘s Artistic Director, Bradley Moss (who is directing The Last Five Years), described this conflict behind the company’s season opener The Last Five Years, to me – I was hooked. The idea of success driving a couple apart is something that goes against the stereotypical portrayal of divorce, and it’s what the musical The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown, explores in a concise 90-minute performance.

The Last Five Years is a close-up on both the formation and dissolution of Cathy and Jamie’s relationship, told as a musical. He becomes a successful novelist while she remains a struggling actress. The musical has run Off-Broadway and a movie adaptation was released earlier this year, and now Theatre Network is bringing it to their temporary home, The Roxy on Gateway, running October 29 – November 15.

Patricia Zentilli, in the role of Cathy, in The Last Five Years. Photo credit Aaron Pedersen

Patricia Zentilli, in the role of Cathy, in The Last Five Years. Photo credit Aaron Pedersen

Patricia Zentilli, who plays Cathy, describes the show as, “A story of a relationship that didn’t work, really, but it lasted five years and it’s celebrating the beautiful parts of it, but you also get a peek into where things started to crack or unravel. It’s sort of a love story that doesn’t work out. You can sort of relate to all the phases they go through if you’ve been in a relationship.”

One of the things that makes The Last Five Years unique is that Cathy and Jamie tell their stories virtually independent of one another – Jamie tells the story of their relationship from his perspective starting at the beginning, while Cathy tells it backwards, from the end to the beginning. For Patricia, having the two timeline tracks is part of the fun of the show and gives her an extra challenge as an actress. “I have to remind myself before each song what’s happened, what hasn’t happened yet, what she knows, and what the audience kind of knows too because they’re putting it together as they watch and listen.”

Of her character, Patricia says, “She’s a struggling actress in New York who is talented, but just not getting any breaks and she hasn’t had much luck with men either. She’s come from a small town and moved to the big city and has big dreams for herself and how she thinks her life is going to go, but of course life never happens the way we think it will. With her husband or boyfriend having this great success at a young age, it’s difficult.”

This is the second time Patricia has taken on the role of Cathy, the first being at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. In talking to Patricia, it’s clear she loves The Last Five Years – revisiting the show has been on her mind since moving to Edmonton and meeting her now co-star, Jeremy Baumung. “When I first moved to Edmonton, I heard Jeremy sing and I thought he would make a great Jamie, so I messaged him on Facebook and said, ‘Do you know this show? You should get the soundtrack – we’ve gotta find a way to make this happen.’ So, we’ve kind of been talking about [doing the show] for the last few years… It was Cory Sincennes, our set, costume and lighting designer, who brought the script to Bradley Moss and then Brad called me up and asked if I would be interested in doing it again. I had just worked with him last year on The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble and I really loved working with him, so I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely,’ and suggested Jeremy as Jamie, and I think Brad already had him in mind as well.”

With a lot of big, emotional songs, The Last Five Years is difficult to sing, but really allows Patricia and Jeremy to show off their talents. One of Patricia’s favourite songs to sing is the musical’s opening number, ‘Still Hurting’, “It’s a really sad song, but it’s really satisfying to sing as a singer and an actor. It’s exciting because it’s the first song everyone hears…  It’s kind of my chance, I hope, to get the audience to care about Cathy and go, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened?’ and see how much she’s suffering and how in pain she is but also how much she loved – probably still does love – Jamie. I just love belting it out.” Despite the sadness of the play, with everyone starting out the show knowing that the couple’s relationship comes to the end, Patricia says there’s also a lot of funny moments and joyful songs.

The Last Five Years will be performed at The Roxy on Gateway (formerly C103). For this production, Theatre Network has transformed the space into an alley set-up, with the performance space in the centre of the room and the audience on two sides. The musical will be accompanied by a cellist, violinist, and pianist under Erik Mortimer’s musical direction.

The Last Five Years plays October 29 – November 15. Previews are October 27 & 28. Tickets can be bought from Tix on the Square for $18 – $36.

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