Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is the story of a relationship: One man, one woman, from euphoric highs to teary lows. From the early days, full of promise, to the end, when there’s nothing left to work out.
It’s also a musical, so instead of he said/she said, we get he sang/she sang. And the two characters, Jamie and Cathy, begin the play at opposite ends of the titular timeline. Their memories meet in the middle of the show.
The Last Five Years is onstage Thursday through Sunday, for four performances, at Studio Grand Central in St. Petersburg, the relatively new black box theater on 1st Avenue S. There’s a four-member band onstage.
“I knew I wanted to do a musical here,” explains Anthony Gervais, who’s playing Jamie. “They hadn’t done any, and the space is super-intimate and exciting.”
Gervais is co-starring (and co-directing) with Sophie Dushko as Cathy. The two have been dating for the last – wait for it – five years.
A native of St. Petersburg, Gervais met Dushko, from Toronto, when they were both theater students at the Boston Conservatory. After graduation, they stayed together, and have lived in Chicago, New York and other cities, both separately and together.
When Studio Grand Central debuted last fall, owner Ward Smith hired the back-in-town Gervais as House Manager. He’s been in-house for every show, every performance, since then.
The Last Five Years seemed like a great opportunity to perform onstage with the love of his life, whose main digs are in Canada.
Dushko’s due back in New York next month, as a show she’s written is in development there. “Things have kind of sped up in the last couple months, in terms of getting traction in my writing career as well,” she says.
“But Anthony said ‘I want to do this show, and I want to do it with you,’ and I said ‘Well, there’s no one else I want to do this show with, either.’ And I also get a beach vacation out of it? Why not?”
The arc of the Jamie-and-Cathy story – “two ships passing in the night,” as Dushko calls it – isn’t what audiences are used to. But in the two decades since The Last Five Years first appeared, it’s become a favorite of community and regional theaters nationwide.
Gervais and Dushko have put their own spin on the material.
“We haven’t changed anything in the text,” Gervais explains. “We haven’t changed the order of anything. I think what we’re doing with our staging is making it more clear whose memory we’re in, and where we are in their journey. I would like to think that we’re highlighting and bringing new life into the music.”
Adds Dushko: “The non-linear structure of the play is representative of memory, and how we experience our own memories.
“Rather than just taking two separate timelines, we’ve decided to kind of live in the world of memory. I’m present onstage almost the entire time, taking it from Cathy’s point of view – inspired by soliloquies and who has control of the audience.
“Rather than confuse the two timelines, we’re letting them live and breathe together.”
Tickets for The Last Five Years are here.