Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last 5 Years” is an unconventional musical. Centered on a tenuous relationship, it features only two actors whose interactions with each other are limited and whose stories run in chronologically opposite directions. Tonight and tomorrow, Curtain Callers will stage its own production of this Broadway success, but with the unconventional flair the group has come to be known for: the show will take place in Jack Magee’s Pub and Grill, with two women in roles typically played by a man and a woman.
Curtain Callers, which presented “Into the Woods” and “Heathers: The Musical” last year, continue to expand the bounds of theater with the group’s latest production, which chronicles the rise and fall of the relationship and eventual marriage of a novelist and actress. The man’s story is traditionally told from beginning to end and the woman’s from end to beginning. By casting women in both lead roles, this weekend’s show makes use of a non-traditional performance space and subverts the gender binary dynamic common to many dramatic works.
Jae-Yeon Yoo ’18, the show’s director and musical director, explained the value of these stylistic choices.
“I found the content to be perpetuating a lot of negative gender stereotypes,” she said. “I didn’t want to cast it in the traditional way. It could be two women, it could be two non-binary characters, it could be two men. I knew I just wanted to break that and open up the show to a more non-binary interpretation.”
Tori Clarke ’20, one of the show’s two actors alongside Hope Keeley ’21, said that despite these changes to the production, the focus is still on the challenges of relationships.
“I think that to a certain degree, the fact that the show has been cast with two women doesn’t really make much of a difference, because it’s just two people and their story about their relationship,” said Clarke. “The source material, apart from what we are doing with the show, deals a lot with the tension of being in a relationship, and how you can exist as your own person but also love someone else and give to someone else.”
According to Yoo, the group’s use of the Pub as a performance space has its challenges, but it also provides a more intimate and interactive atmosphere. Both actors move into the audience during the show, sitting down at tables and engaging directly with their viewers.
“I love performing in unusual spaces because I think it opens up a lot of opportunities to view theater and the show in a new light, and also because it’s so exciting to see a space you inhabit regularly and have that transformed into a theatrical space,” said Yoo. “I really want [this] to be a very, very intimate musical—not like when you go to a show, the house fades to black and you just see the actors on stage far away.”
Both Yoo and Clarke emphasized the accessibility of the musical through its focus on themes to which many students can relate.
“I think that one of the ongoing themes in this show is about success, and [it] portrays this idea of there not really being enough success to go around, that not everyone can achieve that success. I think that at a prestigious school like Bowdoin, that’s kind of a fear that a lot of us have,” said Clarke.
Yoo hopes that audiences will be able to connect to the show personally and emotionally.
“We don’t need every show to make a big political statement. Sometimes, it’s enough to explore the human connection—the joy, the heartache and all the angst that comes from navigating these relationships, and see those expressed in a really beautiful poignant musical fashion,” she said.