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Theater Review: Same Time, Next Year

Lee Garrow’s production of Bernard Slade’s “Same Time, Next Year” manages to embrace the confines of its premise (one set, two actors, six scenes in two acts covering a 25-year relationship) and even surpass them. There is a unabashed, even daring, theatricality to a work like this, in which we witness the relationship between George (played by Neil Sullivan) and Doris (played by Patty Lee Sylva), both married to others, who meet in the same room once a year for decades.

For a comedic drama like this to work, the performances must generate genuine sparks and the dialog has to crackle. Garrow’s ably staged and beautifully performed play overcomes the occasional shortcomings of Slade’s 1975 play and hones in on a richness within the material. Despite covering a timeframe of 1950-1975, “Same Time, Next Year” is surprisingly timely.

When we meet George and Doris, their post-coital chatter is flush with I-can’t-believe-we-just-did-that boasting and a certain degree of guilt. While Doris is vivacious and good humored, George is a self-diagnosed neurotic who can’t stop speaking about his wife at home. Despite how unlikely it seems at first, the two decide to meet for another affair, an event that becomes an annual escape for both of them.

Slade’s script is full of sitcom-worthy one-liners and doesn’t always follow through with its dramatic revelations. There are some stunning dramatic turns that are glossed over in the subsequent scenes; the idea is that we’re seeing this pair every five years, making for a truncated understanding of who they are.

Yet, “Same Time, Next Year” is so distinct in its creation as a theater experience, it’s amazing to think it was ever adapted into a movie (namely a not-bad 1978 Alan Alda/Ellen Burstyn vehicle). As a stage piece, it provides a generous showcase for its actors. Sylva is sensational, making Doris’ character growth and political awakening seem lived-in. The gradually changing costumes and hairstyles she adorns from scene to scene wouldn’t mean anything if we didn’t believe in Doris’ inner transformation. George is a harder character to like at first and it’s a testament to Sullivan’s performance that the character grew on me. Sullivan is very good at conveying a lifetime of being a glass-half-full neurotic. George movingly maintains his inner romantic in the face of personal tragedies and Sullivan nicely shows us how brave it is to be vulnerable.

For all the comedic bedroom talk about sexual performance, it’s the exchanges on social awareness and newfound political affiliations that have the most bite. Listening to George and Doris declare and defend their views on former political candidates, Gloria Steinem-led feminism and views on the war and the counter-culture movement are provocative. For all the sex talk, it’s the play’s reflections on who we were (and who we still are) that are real conversation starters.

Garrow guides and encourages fine work from her actors, who are up to the considerable challenges of the piece and show us how complicated and messy we are at finding true love.

Same Time Next Year plays until July 8 at the ProArts Playhouse (located at Azeka Marketplace next to Taco Bell). Tickets are available at www.proartsmaui.com or 808-463-6550.

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