SHAMOKIN — Until recently, Jessica Pachuski and Tony Wondoloski were complete strangers, but at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center, they’re going to take audiences on a journey filled with the laughter and heartbreak of a failed marriage in “The Last Five Years.”
The Jason Robert Brown musical, which appeared off-Broadway in 2002, explores a five-year relationship between Jamie Wellerstein, a writer, and Cathy Hiatt, a struggling actress, in New York. The show examines the highs and lows of the relationship while being told from end to beginning by Cathy, as Jamie reflects in chronological order, both meeting only once in the middle.
Off the street
Pachuski, 23, of Kulpmont, pitched the idea of the show to Northumberland Theatre League director Sharon Styer, who she knew from voice and piano lessons and years of involvement in musicals when she was younger. The show made perfect sense to Pachuski for the league because it requires only two actors and a minimalist set.
Styer was on board and mentioned Wondoloski, 30, of Shamokin, for the role of Jamie.
Pachuski had never met Wondoloski but said she researched him on social media and ran into him in public one day. He hadn’t heard of the show at the time, but she walked up to him and asked if he was Tony and told him she thought they were doing a show together. The meeting became a show pitch, and Wondoloski was happy to sign on.
“It’s sad, but it’s real life,” he said of the story. “People go through these kind of relationships all the time. It’s kind of an unspoken thing, but this brings it to light with song.”
The one-act show is entirely sung-through, with a few speaking lines scattered between songs. While the story of the failed relationship is heartbreaking, Pachuski and Wondoloski said there is a humor in the lyrics they find brilliant.
Pachuski first became acquainted with the show when her director at Misericordia University suggested she use a song from it, “Climbing Uphill,” as an audition piece.
“I thought it was a brilliantly funny written show. It’s so true about how you’re supposed to be in the moment but you’re never focused on what you’re supposed to be doing, and how your relationships are what primarily affect your thoughts daily, even when you’re supposed to be at your job, following your career path, but your relationship is what’s really in the back of your mind the whole time,” she said.
With the story being told from start to finish and from the ending to beginning, the actors like that the audience won’t understand the full dynamic of the story until the very end when it all comes together.
Wondoloski noted re-occurring lines from the beginning of the show that appear throughout. He said he thinks it will be neat to have the audience listen and realize, “Oh, I get that ... I understand where they’re coming from.”
Pachuski likes that her character tells the story backward because when she finds herself at the end of any relationship, she looks back to try to see where it started going bad.
“You’re not looking at it chronologically. You’re rewinding and seeing where was that first bad moment, and I think that’s how (Cathy) was reflecting on it and how you can expect her character to maintain closure at the end of the show for her future, which is the beginning,” she said.
The two have been holding living-room rehearsals since January and found they complement each other well with similar, outgoing personalities. Pachuski thinks being such open people is what allows them to be vulnerable enough to portray the emotional roller coaster of “The Last Five Years.”
Despite the seven-year age difference, they are somewhat surprised they had never met before because they have similar theatre backgrounds and run in the same circles.
Pachuski has been onstage since starting ballet at the age of 5. She spent three years performing in shows with the Ann Miles Children’s Theatre and did shows in junior and senior high school under the direction of Styer. She said she also performed in children’s community theatre shows directed by Meagan Baumgartner.
She went on to Misericordia University, where she performed in six shows including “Godspell,” “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Little Women.”
Wondoloski also began in community theatre with “School of Rock,” the first musical performed by the Ann Miles Children’s Theatre. He spent four years performing with the group and continued acting throughout high school productions. He performed in “The Sound of Music” at Susquehanna University and has done shows in community theatres in Milton and Mount Carmel. It’s been eight years since he’s been on the stage, and he’s excited to get back to it.
“I’m pretty comfortable onstage because I’m not really reflecting myself as a person; I’m reflecting a character. When I’m onstage, I completely take over that character. I’m no longer me,” he said.
Thanks to their backgrounds, both are big supporters of arts for children, especially theatre. For Pachuski, theatre gave her a confidence that spilled over into academics and helps her get over any jitters she may have.
“I think it really helps to build character when it comes to your own personality,” Wondoloski said. “I know it helped me build my character as a person. I was pretty closed off as a kid, and jumping into this brightened my thought process when it came to talking to people and opening myself up.”
The two are hoping audiences turn out Friday and Saturday so they can lead them through the trials and tribulations faced by Jamie and Cathy as they fall in and out of love.
Pachuski said she enjoys watching things to give herself a cathartic release without having a personal toll taken on her, and she believes that’s what people will feel coming to the show.
Tickets for “The Last Five Years” may be purchased in advance at Beverly Flowers and Shuey Jewelers or at the door on the evening of the production. The cost is $15 per person.
The Heritage Restaurant is partnering with the Northumberland Theatre League and offering a dinner and a show combination for both the Friday and Saturday productions. Dinner and show tickets will be available at Heritage Restaurant for $75 per couple. Watch the restaurant’s Facebook page or website for the dinner menu. Reservations may be made by calling 570-644-1724. Preferred dining time is 5 p.m.