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Spotlight on: The Last Five Years, Tantallon

By • Nov 11th, 2006 • Category: Interviews

We saw last Sunday’s performance of The Last Five Years, performed by the Tantallon Community Players. After the performance there was a talkback discussion with the cast and crew. We did have some equipment problems, so a few portions of the discussion were not recorded. There is also some hiss and static in the recording.

Listen to the Talkback discussion with the cast and crew of The Last Five Years [MP3 25:36 7.3MB].

Eva Kolig: I’m Eva Kolig. I play Kathy Hiatt.

Christopher Gerken: Christopher Gerken, Jamie Wellerstein.

James Watson: James Watson, Musical Director.

Charla Rowe: Charla Rowe, Director.

Incredible score. I don’t know how you play it. It’s just too difficult and filling and a wonderful bed for these performers to sing over. Thank you for that.

We’d like at this time for all of you to come to us with questions. Anything you want to talk about in regards to them as personalites or as their characters or even why did Jason Robert Brown write it. What was his intent? What did you gather from what you’ve seen tonight? And when you ask your question I’ll repeat it.

Audience: It reminded me of what’s good and bad about email. You can communicate in email and you can say everything you want to say without being interrupted, which sometimes is good. And yet the quality of that communication can change if it was a two sided conversation. I’m curious how you felt about the device itself and what you thought was good and maybe bad about it. How often do you wish you could have been speaking out?

Eva: To each other?

Eva: I think in a lot of ways because I didn’t have Christopher in front of me, it was sometimes easier. Because, obviously when you do a show with somebody that you’ve known for years and years you tend to project feelings and things that you’ve had about them themselves. It’s kind of hard to distinguish that. I mean, that’s what acting’s for, but I think it’s easy because I think each of us have had different points in our life that relate to each part of this show with different people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with different people. So for us it’s easier to vision that. I think for me to envision that. It’s much easier than having him there. That was something we debated.

Christopher: We did. We talked about it. When we rehearsed the show we did it a bunch of different ways. on following a natural time line so it wasn’t forward and backward. It was all forward or all backward. We tried different approaches. It is dictated (to run the play with Jamie going forward and Cathy going backwards), but for rehearsal process, for continuity, to get the story line together we rehearsed it very many different was we actually sat down and said, “what is your interpretation of this song and mine.” So we were in sync with our story telling. But I think the question as to with the email and technology and part of the whole story thing like that I think our characters are extremely selfish and self motivated individuals. I think in an era of email and electronic communication and IM when you don’t have to be concerned about the tone or the immediate repercussion of a response you can be even more so. I think that speaks to this piece, but also to many relationships in the current era. I mean, you have kids. They can either break up or get together via email and have a relationship and maybe they see each other twice. It’s just kind of weird. It speaks to it. It makes in a little easier to be so fickle I guess.

Audience: I was just going to ask as performers, I’m sure you’re used to directors telling you. You know the ending, but we don’t. So it must have been really liberating for you to start with the ending. You know those emotions that you know are going to happen at the end startingn at the beginning. What was that like?

Eva: It was actually kind of hard to start there because it was like, “Great, we start the show off with me crying my eyes out.” That’s a little hard to capture an audience. I had to make levels in it in order not to keep it, “Oh my God.” Like a total sob story. It was harder actually to start from that and to build from it and get kind of younger and more spunky. That’s a really hard thing. You have nowhere to go from. You use your adrenaline at the begining of the show and then move on.

Charla: It was like Bosom Buddies, she played Vera Charles to my Auntie Mame eighteen years ago.

Audience: Has it been that long ago?

Audience: First of all, I want to say how wonderful you both are. Eva, it’s such a pleasure to see you again. And Christopher, everytime I see you you just amaze me. Applause, applause, thank you. My question for you this evening is what do you think this couple could have done to have stayed together?

Christopher: That’s a great question. And the question, I guess goes to should they have gotten together to begin with. Were either of them ready to enter into a committed relationship? I know from Jamie’s perspective the whole moving too fast song speaks volumes to it. I work with students. There’s a generation now that’s very immediate gratification.

Audience: It’s the McDonald Syndrome.

Christopher: Well it’s that and it’s the Internet. I remember having to go the library and having to research a paper rather than have to look it up on the Internet. I had to look in the TV Guide to see what show was on. My television clicker didn’t scroll through the next 20 days of programming. With that immediate gratification I think that parleys into a relationship as well. So you’ve literally moved too fast without really thinking. There’s a different part of Jamie’s psychosis to why he needs to be with another person. He needs a muse. So I guess the question really is, were they the right two to be together to begin with. I think if they both listened more than spoke.

Eva: I think there’s something you learn about relationships in New York. Especially with the fast pace, in your face. A lot of people forget that in order to make a partnership work, you have to support the other person regardless if you want to or not. We see that a lot here in this story. I feel that he’s not coming to my shows, but he’s acting out because I’m not coming and celebrating with him. We just didn’t support each other and I think there was that lack of maybe maturity really to it. Five years of growing up in your 20’s you’ve become a totally different person from the time you’re 22 and 27. I’ve probably changed about four times. I don’t know. I mean you really do. And especially in New York you’re forced to get out there and become older and know everything immediately. You kind of get wrapped up in yourself almost and you forget that the other person needs your home base in New York especially. You need that home base and that support constantly.

Audience: This question is for each one of you: what is your favorite song and why? Starting with Charla.

Charla: My favorite song.

Christopher: In the show or any show?

Charla: It’s a toss up really because “If I Didn’t Believe in You” means an awful to all of us because I think that’s how we all started. And we have to keep saying those words over and over again because we love each other, we hate each other. And it flows and it ebbs and that’s normal. And you have to keep reminding yourself why you believe in this human being. You have to wait and you have to look at two things. There’s always going to be trouble. There’s always going to be problems. Can you fix them? If not, can you endure them? And it’s that cope-ability, if there’s such a word, that keeps us together.

Now you’re looking at somebody who was born in 1940. All my friends are married. There’s not a divorce among us. I’ve been married for 43 years. Mary’s been married for 38 years. I wonder how old some of your marriages are out here and how you withstood all of the problems endemic to being together all the time. And now here we are facing getting older. Not having exactly the same interests. What did you all trade off? Did you trade anything? My husband’s a sailor. I’m in theater. I owe him 11 weekends on the boat. We’re still together.

I think what’s really wrong is exactly what Christopher said, it’s that immediate gratification thing that’s so available to everybody. You can get a meal for $3.50 at McDonalds. You don’t have a lot of people who are willing to practice everyday to play the piano. They want to do something that’s fast and doesn’t require education. They want to come from the ghetto without any education and make a million dollars because they can put a ball through a hoop. It’s just a different kind of world and things are going to change. And we’ve got to learn why and how to build our lives around that kind of change. I think it starts, (aren’t you sorry you asked this question, I’m still talking). It starts with a playpen. My generation put babies in playpens. I was in a playpen. Nobody puts babies in playpens. There are no restrictions. These kids need to be restricted. You need some rules and some guidelines. Perhaps there’s going to be some new ones, but you need them.

Eva: What about you, James? What’s your favorite song?

Jim: Kathy’s part of the last song is probably my favorite because of the exuberance and the freshness. I think anybody’s who’s been in love has that moment where you’re standing at the end of that first date and things really went well and, you know, you can clip these wings and set me free. That kind of exuberance just really drives it.

Jim: My favorite song at the end of the show. Your song, song 13 or 14. Let me get back to you on that.

Eva: What’s your favorite song to play?

Christopher: I don’t know. It’s hard. for this production I would have to say, I don’t even know the name of the song that you sing before I come out. “I can do better than that.” I love that piece because it’s fun. It’s light, it’s honest, and it’s new. And it’s still innocent. And you hate it. It’s a wonderful sentiment and I think you do it well. I think you do it well. So for the show, I guess that would be my favorite song for the context for the show for our production.

Christopher: For our production I think our favorite moment is when we get to look at each other and say I do because, I don’t know, it’s kind of weird. I’m not marrying you, but it feels like we are a little bit. I mean there’s magic there. And yours?

Eva: I think because it’s because it’s the essence of what we do, I really enjoy the audition scene. Because, I don’t know anybody whose been in theater who hasn’t done the grocery list in their head when they’re doing an audition. Like what am I doing here? Do they even care if I’m here? So that’s my favorite one in this show because I think that speaks volumes of what we do for sure. I think one of my favorite ones to listen to because it’s totally different is “If I Didn’t Believe in You Also.” I love that song.

Audience: Would the story have been different if both of their careers been successful? As opposed to his going up and hers going down?

Christopher: Well, I mean, I don’t think so. My career is just faster than she is. She is performing. There is the middle section where I’m encouraging her to give up her day job and go try it. And she does succeed. She starts working in summer stock. So she is having successes. So even though I’m being published. In terms of which is better or worse. Mine is probably more visible to the world than hers is. In terms of success she is making strides. I don’t think so. I think part of it is settling into a relationship and not taking that year to get to know each other. And living through all of the this and thats of what have you. I also think Jamie needs a muse to be creative. When his muse is no longer inspirational and becomes restrictive, he needs something else. I don’t think it would have mattered.

Eva: I think that both of us are look at me personalities and it’s really hard. At his party and that song, “I’m a Part of That.” It’s like the third song. I’m at a party with him for a book reading. I think that’s her way of trying to be part of the scene. Non of us who are extroverts like to give everybody the spotlight, anybody the spotlight, for much longer than five minutes. I think that she feels like, it doesn’t really fall into the character of each of us because we are both very much people person and love to schmooze. It’s hard for a performer not to say, “Oh, I’m on Broadway right now. I’m a performer. Well, what are you in? Well nothing right now.” That doesn’t speak to anybody who has a nine to five. But to us it’s just the way things go.

Audience: Question for Charla, tell us about the differences of working with the huge cast of The Wizard of Oz, and this show.

Charla: Oh my gosh. I had 44 children aged four to sixteen. Christopher was probably the best thing that happened to me because I persuaded him to come in and choreograph. If I’d had to do that too, I don’t know what I would have done. We had some twenty parents. Each one of whom was in charge of two or three students. Rick, sitting here, was the Lion and Christopher went so far as to choreograph him and to clothe him. That was the best costume I have ever seen. There were so many helping hands.

But when you get down to it, regardless of how many people you have on the stage. It always boils down to your relationship between one person who’s performing and yourself. Now when they’re all up there at once and it all blends together and clicks, it’s a joyous occasion. The Wizard of Oz was certainly, well I think probably I should have been like George Foreman and quit right there. Knowing that was the most I could have ever handled.

I can’t tell you what a relief it is to be on the stage with these two because they require very little directing. I blocked the show in one day. They’d both been away. They came back. We went through it and said, “Ok we’re ready. Where are the lights?”

Eva: How many weeks of rehearsal did we have?

Charla: We had five weeks. One week for each of the five years. Is basically what it worked out to. It’s a huge difference.

Christopher: Only one day a week.

Eva: Only one day a week.

Charla: And they’re pos. I mean these people have performed off Broadway, on Broadway, out of the country, in the country. They have honed their craft. That’s evident in everything you saw up there. I certainly didn’t tell them everything to do. Basically, I was more of a traffic cop than anything else, I would say. Every single night of rehearsal. Every single night of performance. They have honed and polished. They have come up with different things. Every night that I have sat here I’ve marveled at how they they were able to basically direct themselves.

Just sitting here tonight and watching you (Eva) sit in the chair as you were driving to visit your parent’s house. You were talking about Mitchell being in the rock and roll band and you did your mouth like this because that’s the way they do it. I didn’t tell you to do that. It was wonderful; they just added so much. Everything that Christopher came up with every single night I was thinking, “Oh my gosh. Now I know that that wasn’t there last night.” Why didn’t I think of that? But they did and the biggest marvel I think was that James. James is the most incredible music director I have ever worked with and I am a music director. He is awesome.

Eva: He is the best.

Eva: I just wondered how you felt watching something that you may not have come away with so many melodies in your head out of a theater that you may have been used to. Even with Webber’s things, You come out of there with Music of the Night in your head.

Eva: Exactly. How does that….

Christopher: Who wants to go dancing?

Audience: I think it’s interesting to see a musical and then say, “Wow, there’s a Mac computer.” And seeing him talking on your cell phone. At first when I saw that I was like, “Wow, did they change it in the writing. Is it supposed to be an older musical and then they changed the writing and made it new fangled.” But it’s not like that. It’s actually written so that it even incorporates those little things sort of change the ambiance of the whole deal. And it’s not period, this is happening now. It’s much easier to relate. You don’t have to step back in time and say,”Well if I was in that situation then maybe I’d do this.” It’s really like this is here this is now. I would do the same thing probably. Like you said before when there are pieces stuck in your head when you listen to the older types of musicals. This was, I think it was better that this was all musical so you got into the, you could feel the rhythm of what was happening in the story, but you didn’t have to go back to a chorus and listen to the same thing again. You were following a normal dialogue like any normal person would have instead of being repeated over and over and over again.

Christopher: That’s the hard part because we don’t have the chorus with the learning the words.

Audience: The dialogue as opposed to constant music. Part of it is age and where I come from. There were times when I wanted to say, “Just talk a minute.” And then start the music. It was wonderful. It worked in the end. It just took a little adjustment on my part to get over my problem with it. It didn’t feel contrived. I think the music worked to tell the story. It helped that a lot of the songs were very very beautiful whether or not I’m going to remember to be able to sing in the car, but they’re beautiful songs. But, yeah, I think there’s always that little footfall in musicals for most people. When you get to that place you’re like, “Just talk with her.” It was almost like two simultaneous cabaret acts that were telling the story in a way.

Christopher: That’s why I like the book reading so much. For the longest time I hated doing the book reading. Because it’s not music. Everything just comes to a halt in the scene where I read a passage from the book. Once we got into the performance it was a nice moment to just breathe, and be, without anything. So it is nice to have that little bit of a break there.

Christopher: The slide show was for you. I think the hardest part of this musical especially from audiences that are more familiar with the more traditional timeline and not having two different paradigms to sort of go back and forth with. And a very simple set. For you to really understand that we did have a relationship, and not have the other one on stage. We don’t have the other on on stage, but you do most of the time because you get to see a photo of both of us which solidifies our relationship with you as an audience. That this really did happen. It’s just not her telling some story about some random dude.

Charla: You can thank Chris for that.

Eva: Doing the entire storyline backwards I don’t think would have captured the audience.

Charla: They tried it that way. Off broadway before it ever went that far. They tried it in consecutive order and it became a little banal.

Eva: You need the ups and downs really.

Jim: I think the vignettes could not be quite a rich that way because you would have to have a lot more continuity between each. He would have to be addressing what she had just done or vice versa. So having them sort of disparate and bifurcated, you have this larger palette to draw from for this performance.

Chris: I also think that leading up to the wedding as the mid point. It really is the pinnacle and it makes that much more poignant and it builds the tension to that point. Because you know we’ve been married. And you’re waiting for it. Now the show in it’s conception does not have an intermission. It’s not supposed to.

For a performer’s sake because we wanted a little vocal rest and also for the sake of the audience, I pushed very strongly for an intermission because I wanted you to linger as an audience in that marriage moment. For more of the time than is allocated in the show. So that when it comes back into Act 2 and starts to unravel, at least in my timeline or move forward in hers. You can linger on us being together just a little bit longer than we are actually given on stage. But separately I think it builds up to that tension of that moment. It makes it that much more special, at least for me.

Audience: You two look like the top of a wedding cake. You were absolutely beautiful.

Christopher: It helps when you have a performer that you’ve known for a long time.

Christopher: Eva and and I have known each other for a very long time. Acted against each other. I directed her. And then went about our ways for a couple years and then called each other. It was like time does not pass. So having somebody special in your life, especially for this piece, makes with much more important. And that’s why I begged Eva to be in the show with me.

Eva: Begged me. He was like, “Will you?” I was like, “Yeah, ok.”

Christopher: I had hoped that besides her talent, but the fact that we had this relationship I knew the process. And for me it’s all about the process. The fun part is getting to what you saw here tonight. So the Saturday morning I’m coming in with coffe and sunglasses and stomping out a cigarette. She’s like, “I’ve got a paper to write.” You know, the fact that we have such normalcy and yet took time for each other is what made it special. I think that shows on stage.

Eva: We really do love each other.

Charla: In fact we were in the dressing room at intermission planning the next show that all four of us could do.

Christopher: Anyway, thank you all for coming and staying for this. It’s huge for us.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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