By Claire Dietz
With Valentine’s Day just ending, the Old Capitol Opera decided to try something new: an anti-Valentine’s Day musical, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, to be staged at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St., at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The story revolves around one couple’s journey through their five-year relationship. The play begins with Cathy, a woman heartbroken after husband Jamie leaves her.
To contrast, in the next song, we meet Jamie, who is upbeat and cheerful at the prospect of a new relationship with someone named Cathy.
What distinguishes this love story from others like it, however, is that Cathy moves backwards on the timeline of the relationship, while Jamie movies forward. This creates a unique, three-dimensional story unlike any other in its structure.
Megan O’Brien, who plays Cathy in the production, said the Old Capitol Opera wanted to try something new, something different. For her, that was scaling back the production. The cast of The Last Five Years consists entirely of O’Brien and Jack O’ Connell, who plays Jamie, along with a six-piece ensemble.
However, that is not the only new thing present in this adaptation. Instead of charging for tickets that would benefit the Opera, the company decided it would be more worthwhile to donate the proceeds to Iowa City’s Shelter House.
O’Brien describes the musical as “heartbreaking and devastating,” as the relationship is simultaneously built and torn apart onstage for all to see.
“You get to go through the minds of both of these people in a relationship,” she said. “Because the time lines are opposing, you see both of these people are in a relationship by themselves. The perspective is not the same on each side.”
O’Brien said while the musical tries to present these dueling narratives, one can’t help but see it through rose-colored glasses.
“There are times where they are both wearing rose-colored glasses,” she said. “One is wearing them, while the other may be in reality. Cathy is the one wearing rose-colored glasses most of the time. She is trying to make it work, she’s in denial for a lot of it and that’s … I think that’s a good scene to follow.”
O’Connell’s character is often the source of blame for audience members, but he said he cannot let that discourage him.
“I have to be on his side and take his word he is doing his best,” O’Connell said. “I can’t necessarily take in all these ideas and philosophies when it comes to showtime. Because when showtime comes I
just have to be Jamie. The audience can decide and make up their minds. It’s my turn to present him.”
He said while the audience may struggle to place the blame and decide who is right versus who is wrong, at the end, the characters do what is best for each of them.
“Jamie and Cathie throughout the story are just trying their best and hopefully learning from it,” O’Connell said. “I don’t think anyone sets out to actively hurt or do something wrong, we just get lost along the way thinking we’re doing the right thing.”
The Last Five Years
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $25-$30, some free tickets are set aside for UI students