Sometimes the most challenging roles for performers are those that closely resemble real life.

According to two Ottawa actresses, whose plays open this weekend, those “real” characters can also be the most rewarding to play.

In The Last Five Years, the latest production from Spotlight Musical Theatre, Alexis Fakouri plays Cathy — a struggling young actress in New York involved in a relationship with an aspiring novelist.

“At face value it seems like it would be a simple role to play, since I am a young actress,” explains Fakouri.

“But once I started studying the play, and really listening to the language in the songs, I got a better understanding of who Cathy is. I even got a haircut that suits her, and have learned to walk like her. It’s been an amazing journey learning her.”

The Last Five Years, by Jason Robert Brown, is a two-person one-act that uses an interesting form of storytelling to explore a love story, from its beginning to end. The performers, Fakouri and James Barron, sing primarily in soliloquies, save for a middle duet at a pinnacle moment in their relationship.

“It is a musical, but there is nothing cheesy or over the top. It’s a very real, tug-at-the-heart-strings story and the music is all so accessible and modern,” explains Fakouri.

“I like to call it the kind of show that even people who hate musicals will like, and I think most people will relate to it.”

Jennifer Brooks, who plays the lead in Me, My Mother and a Whistle, says her’s is also the kind of role anyone can relate to. The comedy, written and produced by local playwright Lisa Meuser, premieres at Club Saw on Sunday. It will also be a stage debut for Brooks, who has worked in short film previously, but whose professional background is in marketing.

She says learning the character of Clair — a 22-year-old who learns to cope with her loving but kooky mother — came surprisingly naturally.

“When I first got the script I was reading it with my mom and she laughed and said ‘This is us.’ I think it’s classic in there’s some of every mother/daughter relationship in there, and the writing is fantastic,” says Brooks.

Meuser says writing comedy, and drawing on experiences from her own life, is the best way to express her creativity and her sense of humour.

“I love to laugh. My dad always said that the best writers write what they know, but of course I exaggerate the heck out of it,” she says.

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