‘Last Five Years’ production in Bentonville pairs couples in gender-bending roles

‘Last Five Years’ production in Bentonville pairs couples in gender-bending roles

Described as “an emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers in their 20s who fall in and out of love over the course of five years,” Jason Robert Brown’s “The Last Five Years” gets a new interpretation in a production created by Taylor Dolan, Kailey Erwin and Madison Tatum. You know director Dolan and Tatum both from Arts One Presents and music director Erwin from Arkansas Public Theatre.

“It’s a beautiful show, and we really felt moved to bring it to life in Northwest Arkansas,” Dolan says of “The Last Five Years.” “The production itself is traditionally the story of one man and one woman, but at the end of the day it’s a universal story about love and loss.

“In order to represent the diverse communities in Northwest Arkansas, we decided to change the cast every night and embrace different dynamics,” she explains. “So, we end up with one night where the story is being presented as it is intended, one night gender-bent, another a queer MLM and a final queer WLW version. It’s really exciting to see how the story shifts in each of their hands.”

The cast is made up of Binta Francis, Brittany Tavernaro, Jacob Andrews and Peter Gaskin, all of whom have a long list of theater credits, “unique powerful sounds, and palpable chemistry,” Dolan says. “We are so lucky to get to work with them.”

The premise of “The Last Five Years” is that we see the story from the beginning and the end at the same time. Cathy tells her story backwards while Jamie tells his story chronologically; the two characters only meet once, at their wedding in the middle of the show.

“Each night we rotate couples to bring the community four different productions — a traditional couple, two queer couples, and finally a gender reversed couple,” Francis picks up the story. “This type of theater is so important right now. We have the privilege to show diverse relationships.”

Francis, most recently seen as Ronette in “Little Shop of Horrors” at APT, plays Jamie, “an aspiring writer who isn’t afraid to take risks.”

“Playing Jamie is vey different than anything I’ve done before,” she says. “As a woman, exploring a character like Jamie pushes the boundary on traditional gender roles. I’ve been able to find nuances between playing Jamie opposite both of the Cathys in the show. Songs have different takeaways between each performance; one night I may look like the bad guy, and other nights I may look like a woman in control of her future. Perception is everything in this show!”

On the flip side of the coin, Jamie is played by Peter Gaskin, who has been seen on Northwest Arkansas stages in “The Producers” and “Mamma Mia.”

“The opportunity to play the same role in two distinct worlds drew me to the show originally,” he says. “And I love the idea of seeing multiple interpretations of a character — it provides more dimension to that role and leads to some fantastic, creative ways of performing.”

Playing Cathy are Brittany Tavernaro — most recently seen in the Theatre Collective’s showcase at TheatreSquared — and Jacob Andrews — last seen as Romeo in AOP’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

“She is a hopeful, optimistic, ambitious young woman who has her sights set high,” Andrews says of Cathy. “Things don’t always work out for her, but she always remains herself, which I find really inspiring.

“I definitely play the character differently depending on who my Jamie is. With Binta I find Cathy is more introspective and slow and patient. My Cathy with Peter as Jamie is much more spunky and outgoing. It’s all about feeding off of your scene partner and matching their energy.”

Tavernaro says “The Last Five Years” is one of her favorite shows, and “this adaptation in particular was exciting to me because it challenged me to take a story that I was familiar with and examine it through a different lens. By switching up the couple dynamics in each version, it allowed us to strip apart any preconceived notions about the story itself and see the human emotion at its core.

“I hope that audiences find an emotion or life experience that they can relate to and feel seen,” she adds. “This is a sad, happy, angry, funny, emotional show — it should make you walk away feeling something!”


‘The Last Five Years:

A Queer Reimagining’

WHEN — 7 p.m. May 18-20; 2 p.m. May 21; again May 25-28

WHERE — Thaden School Performing Arts Center in Bentonville

COST — $25

INFO — Search eventbrite.com

Categories: Theater