J-Town Playhouse brings the curtain down on their decade-long run at AACI

The musical production 'The Last Five Years' will be the group's final performance in their iconic venue.

JARED MICHAUD and Miri Fraenkel portray Jamie and Kathy, whose relationship soars and then crashes spectacularly (photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
JARED MICHAUD and Miri Fraenkel portray Jamie and Kathy, whose relationship soars and then crashes spectacularly
(photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
Sometimes, even though the destination is known, the journey getting there is the real fun and what makes it all memorable.
The Last Five Years, a musical production by J-Town Playhouse running from February 13-29, is one such example: a tour de force about a relationship that soars and then crashes spectacularly. The failure of the marriage is known from the start, yet the story unfolds compellingly from two different perspectives going in two opposite directions.
Written by three-time Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown, and based on his own life, the play has earned an almost fanatical following and was made into a film in 2014 starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan that won widespread critical acclaim.
Something additional will end when the curtain comes down with finality after the last performance: the almost decade-long run of the AACI as a venue for theater in Jerusalem.
One of the best things you can do while waiting impatiently for this show’s opening night is to have a sneak preview at a rehearsal and interview the two stars and the director, and that’s exactly what In Jerusalem did.
Interviewing Miri Fraenkel (Cathy) and Jared Michaud (Jamie) is almost as much fun as watching the show itself. One can’t help but be struck immediately by their intimacy and the effortless, comfortable chemistry between them. They interrupt, finish and complement each other’s thoughts and words, agreeing, disagreeing and laughing together in a thoroughly genuine and entertaining way. They plainly enjoy being together, and somewhat magically, they include you – they draw you into their circle. No doubt they tap into and radiate that same natural charm to reach, involve and enchant audiences.
Chatting with them provides insight into the treat that’s in store when the play opens.
Tell us a bit about the show.
Jared: The play is about the five years of our relationship, but it’s told in opposite directions, so for me it starts at the beginning, and for Cathy it starts at the end...
Miri: ... which is really hard, emotionally – to work backwards – because all those feelings have to just be there at the beginning of the show, and then dissipate, whereas Jamie has to build up his feelings properly.
Jared: A key challenge for both of us is that we are not there with each other experiencing these things because we only actually come together onstage in the middle...
Miri: ... and it’s definitely challenging to do that, but one cool thing that we have been doing in rehearsals is that we’ve been working on the numbers together before taking the other person out. That way we can feel what it would be like to have the other person there. There are quite large chunks of time when each of us is on stage alone.
Jared: There are a lot of people that don’t like Jamie, my character but...
Miri: I disagree!
Jared: Okay, maybe it’s just [director] Jenn[ifer Fleischer] who doesn’t like him.
Miri: Jenn sees herself has Cathy, so she is prejudiced.
Jared: I actually kind of relate to Jamie a lot. He’s just an ambitious guy; he’s oriented toward achieving his dreams, and relationships are hard to balance with that in the end. That’s what makes him interesting and exciting, and I think Cathy is similar.
Do you like the character you portray? Do you identify with him?
Jared: I do, actually (laughs) – but maybe you shouldn’t tell people that – because in the end he does certain actions that I don’t identify with. But mostly, I understand where he’s coming from.
What’s it like to have to carry the whole show just the two of you? It must be exhausting.
Miri: It’s not super easy.
Jared: But I also think it is fun that way. In one respect, I have more to think about, but also I have just her – Cathy – to respond to. It creates more intimacy between our characters. Also, as actors, it’s easier to focus – like okay, it’s just Cathy and I’m just Jamie and there’s nothing else.
Miri: Yeah, it’s nice to have that sort of chemistry to work with...
Jared: ... and I think the audience will feel similarly.
Miri: The only hard thing is maintaining that level of intensity for so long – having to sort of stay up there with that emotion throughout the entire show and be present so much. It’s very intense...
Jared: ... but luckily, it’s not for too long (laughs) – it’s only about an hour and a half...
Miri: ... which is necessary, or we would collapse!
Jared: Yeah, we’d be dying. (laughs)
Miri: It’s hard, yeah. But also, you were saying before about a lot of people not liking Jamie – I actually really like Jamie, despite not necessarily wanting to like him.
Jared: Yeah – that’s how I feel, too. I’m like “Jamie, c’mon – why did you do that?”
Miri: Yeah, I don’t want to like him, but he’s written in such a way that you can’t help but like him – even though he’s doing, like, really bad things. To me, I have a hard time with my character. A lot of this rehearsal process has been for me about finding a way to relate to her in a way that I don’t judge her all the time. I’m trying to not necessarily play everything she does in the conventional way of playing her.
Jared, Miri is a legend here, having starred in multiple productions over the past decade. But you are a new face on the local theater scene. Is this your first role?
Jared: I’ve been in many shows, but in America. I just moved to Jerusalem for the year. I’m here on a fellowship from Yale. I just graduated and I got the Service Through Music Fellowship and I’m here working with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus and other groups. I had no clue what to expect in Israel; I literally came here not knowing much. It has been very enriching and enlightening – so different from anything I’ve done before.
Jennifer, why did you select this show?
Jennifer: I have loved this show for years. It’s so human. You connect so much with these characters because they are flawed – you see yourself and your relationships both in your joy and in the inevitable “crash” that you know is going to happen. Everybody has had a relationship like that; it’s almost cathartic to be able to watch it happen.
One thing that’s really special about this show is the way that it’s built. It’s about Jamie and Cathy. He’s living their relationship from beginning to end like a traditional story, so he doesn’t see the cracks as they’re forming, he just experiences them. Whereas with Cathy, you start the show off knowing that their marriage is destroyed because she goes backwards, so the show opens with her receiving the divorce papers and him leaving her. So you know it doesn’t end well, but you still end up cheering for them and you still hope that maybe this time it will come out differently.
Miri and Jared say you don’t like Jamie. Is that true?
Jennifer: We learn Jamie is a horrible person, in terms of his relationship, but you can’t help but love him. There’s a touchingly human aspect to both characters that you just relate to. It’s a really human story, and that’s what makes it so special. A lot of shows, big happy shows, they’re wonderful to watch and they get you dancing and the music might get caught in your head, but they don’t really leave an impact on you afterward – but in this play, the music will get caught in your head plus you will have an emotional reaction, which is more theatrical, more dramatic. I don’t think there are so many drama productions with this kind of punch.
With large musicals, there are so many actors and so much activity going on all over the stage. What’s it like to direct a two-man show?
Jennifer: Thank God, Miri and Jared are so freakishly talented that I can’t take my eyes off of them, and the songs themselves are so well written that you keep wanting to know what happens. Some moments are hysterically funny, some are heart-wrenching, and because it keeps going back and forth between the two, because he’s happy at the beginning and she’s devastated, and at the end, he’s devastated and conflicted and she’s happy because they just met, it’s not so burdensome because you’re getting these light moments in between as you’re falling in love with the characters. Miri and Jared are so good at what they do, so gifted, that my job is much easier.
How did you choose them?
Jennifer: I had a lot of really talented people come to auditions, but Miri just blew me away. Jared walked into auditions and I was like, “Where did you come from?” – and he was like, “Yale?” and I was like, “Please stay here forever – you are not allowed to leave here after this year.”
They are both mind-bogglingly good. The second they open their mouths, you are just spellbound. Musically and technically they’re very good, but they also excel at emotions and acting – and they have a chemistry, even when they are not on stage together that you can’t miss.
Why did you opt to direct it yourself?
Jennifer: I learned about this show when I was in high school. I’ve loved it forever. It’s one of those things that’s like a cult classic; people who are in theater especially love it. A number of people have been asking us to stage this show, so it seemed now would be a good time to do it.
We actually looked into a number of directors, all of whom were unavailable for various reasons. I was listening to the soundtrack in my car on my way to work and I was trying to figure out who would be a good director for this and I started to picture in my head how I would stage it and I was like, “Crap! – I’m the director for this!”
J-Town Playhouse’s final production at the AACI will be an experience to profoundly enjoy and long remember. Performance dates: February 13, 19, 20, 27 at 8 p.m., February 15, 22, 29 at 8:30 p.m., and February 25 at 6 p.m. at the AACI, 37 Pierre Koenig St. NIS 85/70. Info and tickets:
aaci-jtown.mamash.com or 02-566-1181.