BY CARY GINELL
Louis Pardo and Ashley Fox Linton star in the Rubicon Theatre Company’s new production of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years. We caught up with Louis and Ashley last week, during previews, and talked about the unique perspective the show presents. The Last Five Years traces the progression of a failed relationship; the catch is that the female partner’s storyline is told in reverse, with the breakup coming at the outset of the story and moves backward in time. The only point in the show where the two actually interact with each other is halfway through, at their wedding.
VCOS: Both of you have performed in big, sprawling musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Wicked, Les Miserables – and now you’re playing in a really intimate show where there’s just the two of you. How is your approach different when doing “little” shows like The Last Five Years?
ASHLEY: I would say that the approach isn’t any different. I look at the material and just try and communicate what the text is telling us. But when you join a big show, there are so many pieces involved that it is sort of refreshing just to have the two of us and work on something that is so simple and emotional.
LOUIS: I have pretty much the same approach for the big shows as for the small shows. It’s the same type of character work, but I dial myself back a little bit because normally I do big shows on big stages. We’re in a more intimate space over at the Rubicon and so I had to alter certain things that I do and shrink down how big I can be because I tend to actually be a little too big when it comes down to acting. So I’m glad to be in a smaller place where I can concentrate on connection.
VCOS: Do you find yourself able to concentrate more on the subtleties of your character?
LOUIS: Oh, definitely, definitely. The amount of rehearsal time that we’ve had is a lot more substantial than one character in a thirty-five person show, so basically, the time has been split only two ways between Ashley and me during rehearsals. So we’ve had a lot more time to really hone in on the characters, so that’s been nice.
VCOS: Is it necessary to have chemistry in a show like this, and did you two have that?
LOUIS: Yes, it’s very necessary. We made sure, in the very beginning, that we knew that we needed to work together, whether or not we liked each other. Turns out we like each other! At first, we knew that it would be a challenge being with just one other person.
ASHLEY: We only have one song that we sing together, so when we started rehearsals, people would tell us that we’d only have to rehearse by ourselves, but something that I liked about our rehearsal process was we blocked our numbers first and then we actually performed them to each other after that. So we got to figure out what our initial instincts were and then throw our partner into the mix. When we’re doing it on our own, not only are we acting as our character, but we’re endowing an invisible person with their own emotions.
VCOS: Do either of you have an opinion as to why Jason Robert Brown used the digressive timelines for the characters? Was it a gimmick or was there a reason for it?
ASHLEY: I don’t consider it a gimmick. I think it’s really interesting because it is something that happens in the past, so the audience is not just going on a journey, they’re also experiencing a memory. And I think we do that in our lives. Sometimes we re-experience things and sometimes we just look at them as a memory. Sometimes they’re different as journeys than they are as memories. So I think he’s sort of commenting on that.
LOUIS: I also think that the piece is set up to be an examination of a relationship, both the glory and the pitfalls of it, looking at ways where things could have worked and places where they kind of miss each other; I think that was the intention of Jason Robert Brown when he wrote it, to show all the different colors of a relationship.
VCOS: The other thing about the audience is that it’s kind of a roller coaster ride because both characters are extremely likable, but we know from the outset that the relationship is doomed, no matter what happens.
ASHLEY: Yeah, I think because of the way it’s structured, it’s not a case of what’s going to happen but how it happened.
VCOS: Characters normally go through some element of growth during a play or musical. But with Cathy, it’s kind of addition by subtraction, isn’t it?
ASHLEY: It is difficult to come up with that backwards arc. We did have some rehearsals where I went through my material forwards, from end to beginning. So that was helpful, just to try that. Then I could, sort of “shoot out of sequence.” But I do have to reset myself for every scene.
VCOS: Have either of you done film before? When you talk about “shooting out of sequence,” that can be difficult for film actors, who do that all the time, having to do a scene and then pop into another scene from a completely different part of their character’s journey.
ASHLEY: I don’t know if it helps, necessarily, to have done film, but I think that I have to set up a very clear moment before the scene. That’s the most important thing for me to do so that my character can be believable.
VCOS: Have either of you done two-person shows before?
LOUIS: I did a show in college by an up-and-coming playwright called Falling Dreams. It was about a couple that had gotten married and had lost a daughter. That was the big secret of the show. What I learned from doing that was that in a show like The Last Five Years, once the show starts, it’s like a locomotive, and it’s gone. And if you can’t catch up to it, then you’re kind of out of luck. So you just have to be very ready at the start of any two-person show because once it’s gone, it’s gone. In Falling Dreams, I didn’t have as good a relationship as I have with Ashley in Last Five Years. So I definitely feel that being better friends with the person you’re working with creates a better outcome.
ASHLEY: I’ve never done a two-person show. I’ve done small shows, but never just two. I agree with Louis; I feel like our chemistry really is necessary and really makes the show more fun. I also learned to pace myself during the rehearsal process, because there’s a lot of music, there’s a lot of emotion, and it takes up a lot of head space!
VCOS: Tell about working with your director, Stephanie Coltrin. What did she add to the mix?
ASHLEY: She’s great. I really liked her approach to our rehearsal process. She let us go with our initial instincts and then brought each other into the mix. We’ve been changing things. We literally changed the blocking for an entire song last night after our first preview. So things are constantly changing. But I really appreciate her attention to detail.
VCOS: What was the reason for the change?
ASHLEY: It was just a different energy in the song. Sometimes when you bring different elements into the show, like projections and lighting cues, it affects how you do a scene. We even changed where the band sits. Before, they were behind us, but now, they’re in a separate room. So we’ve been making major changes right up to the very last minute.
VCOS: Do you have favorite songs in the show? Are they the happy or the sad side of your character?
LOUIS: You know what? It sounds a little strange, but my favorite song is the very last one, “Goodbye Until Tomorrow.” I don’t overly sing it or anything, but it’s a great little acting piece; it’s kind of what the whole show is about. It has Cathy, as she is walking out the door, and there’s just something about the way the song is written that dials me into the emotional life of it. That’s my favorite song in the show.
ASHLEY: I think that may be mine too. That song is really effective and I really like being on stage together. I also like “The Next Ten Minutes,” the wedding sequence. I just like those moments where we spend a lot of time on stage together because so much of the show is done by ourselves. So when we’re together, I really feel that that is effective for the audience. Those are special moments.
The Last Five Years plays through February 15 at the Rubicon Theatre Company. For dates and showtimes, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.