“The Last Five Years” Embraces Unconventional Tunes and Timeline

With a repertoire ranging from folk to Latin-Jazz, Ali Decker ’14 and Alex Rubin ’14 told the story of lost love in a production of “The Last Five Years.”

Directed by Esther Cohen ’14, this Theater 901 production was about two artists who, over the course of five years, fall in and out of love with each other. Jamie Wellerstein, played by Rubin, is an aspiring writer, while Cathy Hyatt, played by Decker, dreams of being an actress. The story used a distinctive narrative structure in which Jamie tells the story from the beginning to the end, while Cathy goes from the end to the beginning. As a result, the audience knows the ending from the start of the play.

The production began with Cathy sitting at a desk on the edge of an otherwise empty stage, reading a letter Jamie had left upon leaving her. She sang a wistful ballad called “Still Hurting,” which expresses her pain of knowing that Jamie had left her in search of someone better.

“Jamie is a bit of jerk,” said Rubin on his character. “He is very narcissistic and self-engrossed, which is fun to play. He’s a storyteller, and he’s very obsessed with himself, but at the same time, he has the capacity to be compassionate and loving. He’s also a dork and a goofball, and I liked playing that aspect of his character up as well.”

Jamie sang about the couple’s first date, before moving on to a piece entitled “Moving Too Fast,” after having asked Cathy to move in with him. Cathy, in her part of the story, sits at a table during a reception for Jamie’s newly published book and answers the question, “What is it like to be Jamie’s wife?” during the song “I’m A Part of That.”

“[Cathy’s] biggest problem is that she wasn’t expecting to fail as an actress, and while she is experiencing this failure, she has to watch her husband succeed as a writer. I have never felt to such an extreme the pain of not doing well when someone else is, but having been in relationships before, I get what that’s like,” said Decker.

Throughout the whole show, Decker and Rubin sang solos, pretending that their counterpart was accompanying them on the stage. However, their paths crossed in the middle of their play during their wedding scene, in which each character expressed that all they need is for the other to be happy. The scene demonstrated that the couple did genuinely love one another at one point, though the audience already knew that their relationship was doomed.

“There’s a method for when you sing to someone who is not onstage with you,” said Decker. “I picked a point to look at and focus on so that to the audience, it looked like I was really singing to something. However, there were a couple of songs during which [Rubin] and I were singing only to ourselves, and for those, I looked around and changed my focus a few times to make it clear that I was not singing to someone.”

As the production continued, the audience began to see the success of Jamie’s novel begin to affect both his personality and his sentiments about his wife. Despite having previously been hopelessly in love with Cathy, he began to feel the constraint of marriage, especially when beautiful girls were throwing themselves at him as a result of his success.

Their relationship culminated when Jamie has an affair with a younger woman. During the song “Nobody Needs to Know,” he expressed his confusion about his decision to be unfaithful to his wife, but also his desire to continue seeing the unnamed woman. It was clear by this point that Jamie had fallen out of love with his wife.

Because of the play’s nonlinear structure, the audience saw Cathy’s excitement upon having finished a perfect first date with Jamie with a perfect first kiss while witnessing Jamie’s infidelity and coldness. These contrasting sentiments climaxed in the last number, “Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You,” when Cathy waited for Jamie’s call after their first date, while Jamie, five years in the future, wrote his final note to her stating that he was leaving her.

Cohen utilized the flexibility of seating arrangements in the theater classroom to help illuminate the storyline, which Rubin in particular found very effective.

“For this show, the audience sat on three sides of us, with the orchestra on the fourth,” said Rubin. “Being surrounded by people provided many different angles to which I had to play and really added an intimacy to the production, especially because [Decker] and I were the only two actors. To have it in the round provided a closeness that the show really needs in order to thrive.”

“[Rubin] and [Decker] were a joy to work with,” said Cohen in an email to The Phillipian. “[Rubin] has a lot of experience in theatre, so much of my direction for him was pretty loose — I kind of let him do his own thing and then came in to modify, refine and sometimes reinterpret it. This was the first time [Decker] played a major role in a theatre production, so working with her on building skills like text interpretation and purposeful movement from the ground up was wonderful. From the beginning, both of my actors naturally possessed the most important aspects and mannerisms of their characters, which was why I cast them, so fitting them into the characters was ultimately very easy.”

Along with its unconventional narrative structure, the show’s music differed from the style typical of musicals.

“This musical is sung through almost completely,” said Rubin. “There is very little dialogue. This really furthers the medium of musical — there’s a very different style for every song. No two songs are the same. This production features folky-music, rock music, blues, Latin beat music, and each one provides a distinctly appropriate medium for that character to project how they’re feeling in that moment.”

“My favorite part of directing the show was sharing a new kind of musical theatre — and a show that I love — with the Andover community, and being able to directly affect how they perceived it. I loved hearing my crew ask for a copy of the show’s soundtrack, or that an audience member debated the outcome of the show with their roommate, or that someone woke up the day after the show with the music still in their head. This show is not what you usually think of when you picture ‘musical theatre,’ so I hope that by exposing the Andover community to it, I’ve created some new fans of the genre that I so admire,” said Cohen.