Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September, 2003
What is it about this corny, old-fashioned play that people love so much? Beats the heck out of me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this production of Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year at the Theater Barn. So did my 14-year-old son and the mostly gray-haired audience with which we saw it. Two actors, one set, a predictable formulaic plot. And everyone went home happy. Go figure.
Same Time, Next Year tells the life stories of two people – Doris (Virginia Drda) and George (Stephen Bolte) – in six scenes as they meet every year at rustic northern California inn for an illicit assignation. Doris and George are both happily married, to other people, and are loving parents. The scenes are set every five years or so, and through the stories they share with each other about their spouses, their children, and their careers you learn a great deal about them. Slade also uses Doris and George as mirrors of the times through which they are traveling – the scenes are set in February of 1951, 1956, 1961, 1965, 1970 and 1975 – and director Michael Marotta has cleverly selected music and sound bites that move the period forward during set changes between the scenes.
Marotta is blessed with an excellent pair of actors and a cozy, inviting set designed by Abe Phelps. Stephen Bolte is a versatile and likeable performer, and this show lets him really strut his stuff as he moves George from a wildly insecure young man through a painful period and into a comfortable middle-age. He is simultaneously appealing, sympathetic, and terribly funny. Drda is weakest in the first scene, but as Doris grows and changes she brings new facets to the character without losing her center. She is saddled with an alarming array of wigs, which she carries off extremely well. Not many women can wear blonde, brunette, red and gray hair in one evening and look good the whole time!
Abe Phelps has designed a set that you just want to climb into and settle down. I would book that room at that inn any day. Most impressive are the walls, painted in tromp l’oiel wood grain. Allen Phelps has provided warm and natural lighting. Kyle Harvey has done a nice job of designing costumes that fit, flatter, and evoke the changing eras of the play.
Same Time, Next Year is shamelessly sentimental and you can clearly see when Slade is manipulating you, and yet you fall for it every time. When the show opened on Broadway in 1975 with Ellen Burstyn and Charles Grodin it was an immediate hit and had a three and a half year run – an amazing feat for a straight play. It was nominated for three Tonys (Burstyn took home the Best Actress award) and won the Drama Desk Award for Best Play. Since then it has been translated into over 30 different languages and produced all over the world. Slade also wrote the screenplay for the 1978 film starring Burstyn and Alan Alda, which was nominated for four Oscars and a Writers’ Guild Award.
What more can I tell you? Go see this show! You’ll laugh (a lot). You’ll cry (a little). And you’ll feel good as you drive home as if you just spent a pleasant evening with old friends. This is excellent late summer entertainment.
Same Time, Next Year runs through September 21 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. . The show runs two hours and ten minutes with one intermission, and is suitable for children 10 and older. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003