Spotlight: Same Time, Next Year

Ann Marsden

Bernard Slade's comedy about a decades-long annual extramarital tryst could, in the wrong hands, melt into a slag heap of platitude and clichés about American life from the '50s to the mid-'70s. Not so here, in a well-acted show that locates the heart and humor of the premise and avoids trying to impart the material with more depth than it possesses. Jodee Thelen and Terry Hempleman are Doris and George, who come across one another in California's wine country in 1951, away from their spouses and children, and mutually decide that casual sex is the order of the day. The play opens with George, played in the early going by Hempleman with geeky awkwardness, waking the morning after and finding himself torn between self-loathing and persuading Doris to have another go. The circumstances that led the two to their hotel assignation improbably remain unchanged for the next quarter-century, and the pair age and continue their romance in a sort of parallel life to the one their families and friends know--kind of like Brigadoon, but considerably more fun for the participants. Bain Boehlke directs and designs the set, a northern California inn that stays the same through the evening save for a wall calendar telegraphing the date. Each scene leaps forward in time, and this production keeps things appropriately brisk. Thelen is convincing both as Doris's naive younger self and the more cynical and world-weary woman she becomes. Hempleman pulls off his best scene when George becomes a suit-wearing Goldwater man, and he's funny as the groovily vapid George into which he evolves. Slade's play at times is as much about money as romance, and Thelen and Hempleman nicely play off one another as their characters yo-yo in status. Doris and George are types, only partly drawn, and ultimately neither is possessed of any great depth or distinction. The trick is the chemistry between the two, and actors who know when they can transcend the work's light tone without the bottom falling out. The show is light and knows it, but it's a funny and sporadically moving two hours despite itself.

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