The course of true love never did run smooth and, in the case of the theater, the narrative might not be linear. "The Last Five Years," opening Friday at The Empty Space, tells the story of two New Yorkers in two contrasting perspectives: one from the end of the pair's relationship and one from the first blush of romance.
In Jason Robert Brown’s musical, the twenty-something New Yorkers are quick to love but learn that finding "the one" is only the beginning of a journey beset by struggles over work, following your passion and life. Writer Jamie's story moves forward in time from their first meeting while Cathy, an actress, begins hers with their separation and travels back into their past.
An added twist is in the casting with two actors (Alex Mitts and Baeleigh Bevan) playing Jamie and two (Ellie Sivesind and Megan Jarrett) as Cathy. Audiences will be able to see each pairing in two performances during the show's run through Feb. 23. (Mitts and Sivesind will perform Friday and Feb. 23; Bevan and Jarrett on Saturday and Feb. 22, Mitts and Jarrett on Feb. 8 and 16; and Bevan and Sivesind on Feb. 9 and 15.)
Director Kristina Saldana said the special casting helped make this an easier show to pitch, since two-person shows often struggle when theaters rely on word of mouth.
"You go see a show because your friend is in it or because you heard the production was really good," Saldana wrote in an email. "My initial intent was simply a way for us to create a bigger opportunity for publicity, along with a way to incorporate more talented performers into the show."
Casting two people in each role, including a man and woman as Jamie, allowed for variations in the presentation of the story.
Saldana said, " ... Each pairing creates a different interpretation of the relationship of these characters and the chemistry between the actors differs from person to person, thus creating an individual and unique version of Cathy and Jamie each time. Hopefully, the audience will be able to relate and empathize with one of them."
There's a lot for audiences to take away from this show, Saldana said, and an emotional connection to be had regardless of with whom or what you identify.
"I think the fact that love and relationships are something that happen to every single person on this planet in some shape and form and being able to see other people going through what you might be going through or have gone through is cathartic. And really we could all use some catharsis right now."
To encourage people to make it an outing, Saldana also developed a happy hour menu that guests can enjoy a half-hour before the show or afterward. Items ($5 each) include jalapeno popper dip with kettle chips, roasted pine nut hummus with pita bread, Buffalo ranch mixed nuts and pretzels and petite mousse trio.
Cocktails, themed for the seasons, and beer and wine will also be available (all $5 each) as well as soft drinks ($2), which can be enjoyed post-show with the performers.
Saldana said all are welcome: "People are also encouraged to come to the post-show happy hour even if they didn't have tickets for the show that night!"