One Step Forward, One Back – Elements Theater returns with a time-bending musical

Elisha Schaefer
Elisha Schaefer

In “The Last Five Years,” playwright Jason Robert Brown tells a typical love story: boy meets girl, they fall in love, they squabble and split. But here’s the twist: One character in the play lives out the story in linear time. The other character, sharing the same stage, tells the story in reverse order. They only overlap once, right in the middle. Oh, and it’s a musical.

That’s a DramaDesk-award winning musical, mind you, being presented by stage-hopping Elements Theater Collective tonight and running through April 28. As is the company’s wont, the play will be performed at various locations — a coffee shop, the Piano Kitchen, SHIFCO, the retirement community on the Mesa, and others — from Carp to Goleta. All shows are free with suggested donations.

“The Last Five Years” was one of the first shows Sara Rademacher and actor/sometimes producer Emily Jewell had considered mounting while the former was still living in Seattle and formulating Elements in her head. But technical issues and not wanting Elements’ first event to be a musical — sharing, as they do, actors from the all-musical Out of the Box company — made them shelve the play until now.

Ms. Rademacher and producers Mary Plant-Thomas and Rob Grayson have trimmed the accompanying ensemble down from a sextet to a solo pianist.

Ms. Jewell has stepped aside from producing to star and sing in this show. Ms. Jewell should be familiar to Santa Barbara theatergoers by now with her strong turn as one of the leads in “Avenue Q” and as Emma Goldman in “Assassins.” This part requires a lot of singing, and she shares the stage with Elisha Schaefer as Jamie. He started in Elements as a set designer, but auditioned for the part and revealed his acting and singing chops. But Ms. Jewell already knew this; he had sung the part of Leon Czolgosz in Out of the Box’s “Assassins” alongside her.

Elements have set up a Indiegogo campaign to purchase lightweight LED stage lights, which will make their “theater company in a car” method even easier. And Elements has a fan base that likes to volunteer.

The constant change of venue keeps the company on its toes. During talkback at Casa Esperanza, a homeless shelter, for “Or,” Elements’ most recent production, residents engaged in the longest discussion the director can remember. The donations-only means of payment has worked out for this group. “We don’t have to wait for a theater space to become available,” says Ms. Rademacher. “We don’t have to work with other people’s schedules. We have an intimate group of people who work hard to make it happen.” What it comes down to, they say, is putting on shows that they want to see. And their quick turnaround time — this is their second show of 2013 — keeps the company in the public eye.

“We put it all down to our insanity!” Ms. Rademacher says.

‘The Last Five Years’
When: 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Various locations (tonight’s premiere: Piano Kitchen, 430 Rose Ave.)
Cost: $20 donation (reservations suggested)
Information: www.elementstheatrecollective.com or 232-4382

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