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Barefoot Theatre Collaborative hands ‘The Last Five Years’ a fresh, more mature take

By Lé Baltar Published Sep 22, 2023 2:39 pm

After ending its debut season on a high note with Pat Valera and William Manzano’s Mula sa Buwan in 2022 and opening its sophomore season with the twin bill of Mikaela Regis’ Unica Hijas and Floy Quintos’ Laro for this year’s Pride Plays, Barefoot Theatre Collaborative takes a leap with The Last Five Years, the first international material that it is adapting on stage, set to run from Sept. 29 to Oct. 15 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight in Circuit Makati. 

“We know it’s a strong narrative, it’s a strong story. It speaks about the unspoken, especially in heartbreaks that are still part of our journey in relationships,” Pat Valera, one of the theater company’s five founding members, told PhilSTAR L!fe at the show’s open rehearsals.

Valera admitted that working on an international musical was “quite hard.” “I mean, there are a lot of steps to be able to mount [the show and] get the license. It was a challenge production-wise but also an easy choice for us to do.”

Written and composed by Jason Robert Brown, The Last Five Years tracks the tumultuous five-year relationship between struggling actress Cathy Hiatt and emerging writer Jamie Wellerstein, told in two opposing timeframes that only intersect halfway through the story.

This is already the third local adaptation of the Off-Broadway musical after its 2003 Philippine premiere by Actor’s Actors Inc. starring Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo and Audie Gemora, as well the 2014 edition by 9 Works Theatrical led by Nikki Gil and Joaquin Valdes. This time around, real-life couple Gab Pangilinan and Myke Salomon are taking on the lead roles.

Gab Pangilinan and Myke Salomon

Interestingly, Pangilinan shared that she had seen the 2014 staging with Salomon. Yet she found it hard to compare the latest staging to what already came ahead of it.

“There’s also the movie version. It’s just so different. Also because the ones who did it before like Nikki Gil, theater actor din siya, so she had her own take on it, for sure,” she said.

“Ako personally, and I think with any actor who handles new material, you just try to be as truthful as you can with what you know and how you study the character and you just trust that the right audiences will understand you and will get to see the message you’re trying to deliver,” added Pangilinan, who also performed her lively rendition of A Summer in Ohio.

Because the show is a two-hander, Salomon, on the other hand, said that preparing for it was “quite tricky and challenging.”

“Unang-una, you get to do a monologue style na song, and then in monologue form, you don’t get to play with another character,” he said.

What is exciting about the piece, though, added Salomon (who also delivered a beautiful version of Moving Too Fast), is that “every story, every version is open for interpretation.”

“Dito, we have a chance to do it differently, so I hope na tumawid siya sa audience na it’s a fresher take, a fresher story for everyone,” he told L!fe

It also helped that director Topper Fabregas has always been welcoming of plenty of insights on such a widely recognized story, according to Pangilinan. In fact, the actress has been eyeing to work with Fabregas since seeing him direct a play for theater company Red Turnip years ago. 

The team behind The Last Five Years 

“Actually, ang saya. I think both us medyo aligned kami in the sense na we both wanted to work with each other, with me as his actor and him as my director. Siyempre, we came from AHEB [Ang Huling El Bimbo] di ba, so parang lagi kaming magkasama. I guess, communication-wise, gets na namin ang isa’t isa,” Pangilinan said.

“And even with drawing the line between him as my director or as a friend, we’re both so open. I told him, ‘If there is anything [you hope to do], I’m an open book. My communication lines are open.’ And even for him, it was important na parang naka-set na that as long as we’re both honest with one another, super open siya for collaboration,” she added. 

Fabregas, meanwhile, admitted that he felt a lot of pressure steering the latest adaptation, considering that he also saw both productions prior.

“I loved the show so much. I knew that we had a definite voice. There’s something that we really wanted to say with it. I didn’t expect lang the reaction to be this big,” he shared.

But in terms of direction, Fabregas said the team is giving the beloved work a more mature take.

"We’ve all grown up since we saw it last time, so we’re looking at it with, I’d like to think so, more mature, grown-up eyes. We can see beyond the five years, right? If that makes sense. Before kasi when I first heard it, I was probably about the same age na around 20s, but now that I’m much older, I can look back and parang may perspective ka na there’s something beyond the five years of what could have possibly been," the director said.

The artistic team, noted Fabregas, also decided to employ a traverse staging, which essentially splits the audience into two sides opposite each other. This, to an extent, affords the storytelling a way to experiment with time and space, given the nature of the material.

“Hopefully all the scenes, all the songs kind of dissolve into each other, and it just becomes this wonderful memory playing out in front of our audience,” Fabregas said.

And despite the show being only the third stage production of Barefoot Theatre Collaborative, Valera said that the team’s working relationship is “now more honest.”

“We are here to learn what’s good, what’s bad, what can be changed. And we now work better, knowing each other’s strengths and what we can work on better. We know that we are here to do the good work of telling stories best and staging it best,” Valera said.

Pangilinan, also a co-founding member, further emphasized the vision of the theater company. “Whatever it is, it will be stories that matter to us, personally man or to one of us. Just stories that we feel worth telling and stories that need to be told. So that’s why I also feel so strongly about finding your people,” she said.

The Last Five Years will be staged from Sept. 29-Oct. 15 at the Power Mac Center Spotlight Blackbox Theater, Circuit Makati.