In the romantic comedy Same Time Next Year, a man and a woman “grow up” together as adults in an unexpected setting: an annual tryst that runs for 25 years.
The two-person comedy by Bernard Slade, directed by Paula Kline-Messner at Actors’ Summit, ran for 3½ years on Broadway from 1975 to 1978, earning a best actress award for Ellen Burstyn, who co-starred opposite Charles Grodin. The 1978 movie starred Alan Alda and Burstyn.
Today, the work is a true vintage piece, created by the writer who’s also famous in Hollywood for sitcoms The Partridge Family, Bewitched and The Flying Nun.
So why is Same Time Next Year being mounted now at the Akron theater? The play’s dialogue and gender roles, depicting 1951 to 1975, come across as dated. And some of the references to race and sexuality are painful to listen to, as are a number of corny jokes.
But the heart of the work is interesting in its two simultaneous character studies, with both George and Doris learning, evolving and finding themselves as individuals over more than two decades. These evolutions are seen through the lens of a single day about every five years in the six-scene play.
George and Doris, both married to other people, have met each other at a country inn in Northern California in 1951. He’s flown in on a business trip and she’s there trying to get some time to herself after telling her husband she’s on a church retreat.
They end up in bed together and the play opens the following morning, with the couple wracked by either guilt or nervousness. Keith Stevens is especially comical as George, a neurotic lover who feels guilty about just about everything.
Natalie Sander Kern’s Doris, on the other hand, is more matter of fact and doesn’t wear her guilt on her sleeve. The couple agree to meet at the same guest cottage every year on the same weekend.
Over time, George and Doris’ relationship becomes less about sex and much more about companionship. She starts out as an uneducated, rather ditzy housewife, and he encourages her to read.
She evolves from a woman who depends on her husband for everything to one who is an astute businesswoman. He also grows out of his insecurities and becomes a more assured adult.
The two start out in the child-rearing phase and end up as two bespectacled older adults reading in bed.
Along the way, some politics enter in their discussions when Doris rather jarringly goes through a hippie phase while George, at the same time, becomes a staunch conservative. It’s also fun to see Doris’ evolution of hairdos — everything from a red bob to flowing, long blonde hippie hair.
The two go through one extreme situation together and both experience huge losses in their home lives. But through all the changes that the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s bring in their lives and outlooks, George and Doris hang on to each other.
While this retro show has plenty of humor, namely through the comedically talented Stevens as George, it does not come across as highly romantic at Actors’ Summit, as the New York Times praised the original show. In this production, George and Doris develop a level of comfort with each other that helps each navigate his or her personal journey.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.