Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade. Directed by Phil Rice.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I Love you..."
Love at an early stage; photo provided
Romantic comedies donít come any slicker than this one. We are introduced to the two players, Doris and George, in bed in the morning on a February day in 1951 in a country inn in northern California. She is on her way to a retreat with nuns; he is an accountant doing the books on a small business. They are strangers who have just enjoyed a night of romantic and sexual bliss. They are clearly an unsuitable couple. On the stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, these two really seem out of step with one another. The problem is their animal lust and their passionate needs. They canít keep their hands off of one another. To hell with finances. Screw the nuns. Or not.
This couple decide to meet the same weekend the following year and that once-a-year tryst turns into a twenty-five year devotion - romance to the enth degree. We see them as they progress through life, almost consistently in five year increments. They each grow and change and the changes are half of the fun in this production. The other half is the result of Phil Riceís wonderful staging of the play. Doris goes through the more radical alterations, becoming a late-day hippy in college, "the only student with clear skin," she tells her boyfriend, and later a successful and glamorous business woman. Rice takes his actress into physical realms that far outstrip the costumes and wigs she needs for these transitions. He and Kathleen Carey have carefully orchestrated posture, stance, walk and gestures for Doris which clearly emphasize her emotional growth as well her physical changes.
Rice has done as much with Brian Allard for George. George is a self-conscious, guilt-ridden man when we first meet him and as his professional stature transmogrifies so does his entire body. It isnít the clothing or his hair comb as much as it is his face and legs. Both legs stiffen, soften, stiffen again. His face goes from moveable to immovable as he controls his characterís place in the sun. For Carey and Allard, the physical has become the trappings of character because underneath all of these differences that the years bring to them, Doris and George remain the same star-struck love-birds they were in scene one. Twenty five years has not dimmed the glory of their romance.
This was a favorite pick of Theater Barn audiences in a poll conducted there last season and it is a wonderful choice. The play is always a winner and in this new production it is easy to see why. Both characters have winning written all over them and both actors, in this instance, bring wonderful qualities, including that self-assurance that allows them to grow and develop in front of an audience, to the proceedings.
The director has a vision that does not include a complete makeover of the set between each set as happened in New York originally and in other productions Iíve seen. This room remains much the same throughout with subtle changes. It seems oddly fitting here, in this production, that the room not change much. So much has happened to each of the characters, to their spouses and children, to their environments outside this room, that sustaining the comfort level of this space works very well for them and for the play. Music and news reportage cover the change in time, and the costume changes, and the refreshing of the inn room seems to be enough here.
Plays with so few characters are tricky. There is always a chance that the characters, unrelieved by the presence of others, may become boring or dull. In this play the characters are refreshingly new in each scene. Five years is a lifetime when it comes to changes. Again, Carey and Allard make those characters new each time, and yet we never lose sight of that awkward couple waking up together that first morning.
Abe Phelps set and Allen Phelps lighting work very well together and the scene changes in a very dark theater are handled with alacrity and style (no blue light - thank you, thank you, thank you) and do their minimal magic in creating a fresh room each time.
Among the plays to see, this season, this one is a winner. Try not to miss it.
Same Time, Next Year plays at the Theater Barn on Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY through July 6. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-794-8989.