On this Front Porch, young, local artists grab a deserving spotlight

On this Front Porch, young, local artists grab a deserving spotlight

David Toole (Photos provided by frontporchpgh.com)
David Toole (Photos provided by frontporchpgh.com)

Summer and romance go together so well that local theater company Front Porch Theatricals kicks off its season May 22 with “The Last Five Years,” a piece detailing five years in the lives of a New York City couple in their 20s. Each half of the duo tells his and her story in varying order — Cathy Hiatt from most recent to the beginning, while Jamie Wellerstein addresses the start to the end — each sharing quirky moments that relationships build upon.

“I could shove an ice pick in my eye, I could eat some fish from last July. But it wouldn’t be as awful as a summer in Ohio, without cable, hot water, Vietnamese food or you,” Cathy, played by Erin Lindsey Krom, romantically reflects on Jamie, played by David Toole.

The pair works through the layers of identity while on stage, including the challenges of two people of different faiths who fall in love; he is Jewish, she is not.

The story of romance and how people find one another is not far off from the story of Front Porch Theatricals’ co-producers, Squirrel Hill residents Nancy and Leon Zionts.

“It had not occurred to us until asked … that our courtship lasted five years and has continued 31 plus years (and counting) since,” said Nancy. “ ‘The Last Five Years’ is about ups and downs in relationships and how couples grow in and out of love together — and support each other’s dreams and aspirations. It demonstrates the reality that it isn’t always easy and there is not always a happy ending.”

The way they tell it, Leon and Nancy met on Dec. 31 1978 at the No. 9 bus stop on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.

“We dated six months in Israel while in college, and then married after a five-year long-distance — Montreal to D.C./ Pittsburgh — relationship,” Leon said. “Front Porch Theatricals represents what we have most in common — other than our daughters and dogs — our love of all things theater, and through FPT we get to spend lots of time together on a joint passion.”

What’s more, similar to Cathy and Jamie, the Zionts work side by side as they put on the shows — the pair sings all of the time — something Leon credits as a longevity factor.

Choosing the season’s theme was more thematic than serendipitous.

“We chose our shows first earlier this year, and then discovered some thematic links: They are both love stories, but neither is the conventional girl meets boy; they fall in love and live happily ever after kind,” Nancy said. “They both have more depth and a path with some forks and turns, therefore, romance, with a twist!”

The May show, “The Last Five Years,” is what the Zionts call an “emotionally powerful and intimate musical [with an] unconventional structure [consisting] of the woman telling her story backwards in time, while the man tells his story chronologically; the two characters meeting only once, at their wedding in the middle of the show.”

“Romance with a twist!” they said.

The show was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 best shows of 2001, and enjoyed an off-Broadway revival at Second Stage in 2013. The film adaptation, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan, was released last month.

“Light in the Piazza” runs from Aug. 21 to 30.  

Front Porch Theatrical’s mission is to expose young, local artists, and this year’s season is matching that goal, Leon said. “We are meeting our mission head on with two terrific, local, young, professional actors, both members of Actors Equity Association, and both on their way up.”

Krom graduated from Point Park University and splits her time between Pittsburgh, New York and traveling shows around the country, while Toole graduated from Robert Morris University and acts exclusively in Pittsburgh, in addition to singing as the front man for two local rock and roll bands.

“Their exemplary vocal and acting skills are on display throughout the 90 minutes of this fast paced two-person show,” Nancy said. “Their chemistry is electric.”

“We have been called a boutique professional musical theater company by local foundations [that] have been supportive of our direction and commitment to providing not just more theater in Pittsburgh, but to bringing lesser known, less often shown, thoughtful and entertaining theater to our community,” echoed Leon. “That has been our track record.”

For more information, go to frontporchpgh.com.

Bee Schindler can be reached at beeschindler@gmail.com.