Last week, I had a really good time attending the Portland Center Stage Show Lizzie, a musical about Lizzie Borden and possible version of the events. I went with my girl friend M (I reviewed the production and my recap of the experience, as well as shared some trivia and tips for food and drinks before or after the show here).
But, I lamented the fact I hadn’t been paying more attention to the shows and they were now ending their 2013-2014 season (during 2 months of summer July August the theater has other short events such as various staged readings you can find out at their website, rather than production runs). Luckily, there are two theaters on Portland Center Stage, so there is one other show available to see. This time I made it part of a date night with F. I was particularly interested when I found out that story is slightly autobiographical, and that it is currently a movie adaption in production starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan and written/directed by Richard LaGravenese.
The Last Five Years by Portland Center Stage for 2014, Art by Michael Buchino
The Portland Center Stage Show The Last Five Years is also a musical, and has a cast of only one man (Drew Harper as rising novelist Jamie Wellerstein), one woman (Merideth Kaye Clark as aspiring actress Cathy Hiatt), and one behind the scenes tireless pianist Eric Little during its 90 minute run time. The premise is you listen to the story from the man’s perspective going sequentially in time while simultaneously following the woman’s perspective going backwards through time in their five year relationship.
Portland Center Stage production of The Last Five Years, Drew Harper as Jamie Wellerstein, Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel
Because of this narrative construct, there is only one time they are present together at the same time in both their time lines, although there are moments both are on Stage together but yet are also alone. This theme of being together yet alone is one of the many topics that arise in the story, making this a great show to discuss over drinks afterwards with other friends, whether they are single or in a relationship. Myself, I went with a Pistachio Martini with house infused pistachio vodka, Absolut Vanilla, Midori, Half and Half and crushed pistachios at nearby Piattino after the show.
Other topics include
- Role of breadwinner in a couple
- Choices between work and family
- Value of a career in defining who you are
- How you are told to keep trying until you succeed but also the reality of how far you can go with a dream
- What does supporting your partner really mean
- Where is the line between asserting for yourself and being self centered
- Where was the missed connection or point where things could have been saved or was it doomed… And how often instead of maturely ending a relationship it seems easier to do something stupid to destroy it
- The time is also set in the 90s, so would modern communication tools like texting and internet video calls have made a difference?
- Although unfortunately in the production it isn’t always clear what scenes are in New York versus Ohio, the environment you live can also play a role
- He is Jewish and she is Christian, but we didn’t know enough to talk about whether religion and upbringing also played a role
As the conversation with your date(s) continues on, or maybe even only internally with yourself, there might even be reminiscing your own history of individual failed relationships. Inevitably parts of the play will resonate with something in your own past situation.
This may make it sound like the musical is quite melancholy, but there are also threads of excitement of the rush of love, and humor in many scenes just like the course of real life. It’s also quite amazing to see the actor and actress singing their hearts out for these 90 minutes (and on some days twice a day!), with some of the songs requiring fast lyrics that they never hesitate or tumble over. There is very little speaking so they have to communicate the story as well as the distinct character quirks all in song. In particular, Merideth Kaye Clark is insanely talented – it was hard to buy that her character was a struggling actress because Merideth is incredible. And, oh, she also has a degree in neuroscience.
Portland Center Stage production of The Last Five Years, Merideth Kaye Clark as Cathy Hiatt, Photo credit: Patrick Weishampel
Hurry though as The Last Five Years will be closing on this next Sunday June 22, so only 1 week of performances is left. Lizzie closes on the following Sunday June 29. When did Portland Center Stage become our little Off Broadway theater!??!
In the smaller more intimate studio theater space downstairs, the Ellyn Bye Studio only holds 199 and has open seating, unlike the 590 seats assigned seating arrangements of the Gerding Theater. The doors open 30 minutes before showtime so show up early to claim your seat and then send your date to bring back your lidded drinks! They have a special cocktail for The Last Five Years (though you can order whatever you’d like, even the Lizzie cocktail of course) called Bittersweet Love Song that includes Ketel 1 Citroen, Campari, Combier Orange Liqueur, Orange Bitters, Lemon Juice, and Honey Syrup.
Also if you can sit on the left side the doors farthest from the stairs you come down to get to the floor the theater is on. The studio can be configured in many ways depending on the stage design, and for this production the stage is in the middle like runway with seats facing in either side. It does mean that you will at least half the time be listening to the actor/actress as they are singing in profile or even their back. I felt during certain emotional scenes the actor/actresses were blocked facing towards that side more.
And finally, because the actors/actresses move in and out of the small space and there is no intermission, go to the restrooms before the show and be ready to wait 90 minutes until your next visit!
The Last Five years is Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown and directed by Nancy Keystone. You can purchase tickets here. Tickets range from $30-45-55 depending on the show day and time. Performance times:
- Tuesday – Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m.
- Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
- Thursday matinees at noon
You can find Portland Center Stage (PCS) online at Facebook PDXcenterstage, Instagram @portlandcenterstage and Twitter @PCS_Armory. Also check the hashtag #pcs_LastFive! You’ll find more about Portland Center Stage shows on the PCS blog.
Disclosure: I was invited to see this production, but I will always provide my honest opinion and assessment of all products and experiences I may be given. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are entirely my own.