Is an affair just an affair after 25 years? ‘Same Time, Next Year’ ponders that question

Patty Lee (left) and Neil Sullivan are longtime lovers in ProArts Playhouse’s season ender, “Same Time, Next Year.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays, opening on Friday and running through July 8 at the ProArts Playhouse at Azeka Makai in Kihei. Tickets are $26. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 463-6550 or visit www.proartsmaui.com. Jack Grace photo

What low-cost, one-room, two-person play ran on Broadway longer than “Guys and Dolls,” “The King and I,” “The Music Man” and “The Sound of Music”?

Believe it or not, it’s 1975’s “Same Time, Next Year,” and no non-musical has surpassed its 1,453 performance run since.

This weekend, the romantic comedy that explores a long-lasting extramarital affair opens at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.

After a fortuitous meeting at a Northern California seaside inn, George (Neil Sullivan), an accountant, and Doris (Patty Lee), a housewife, embark on a one-night affair, but decide to meet every February at the same cottage for the next 25 years.

Author Bernard Slade based the play on regular visits to the Heritage House Inn, a landmark Mendocino, Calif., coastal resort famed for ocean views, fireplaces and private cottages. The inn, which has been in operation since 1877, provided a romantic getaway for Slade and his wife, Jill Foster, from their children, where they would pretend to be having an affair.

Nathaniel Hunt defies gravity again in Adaptations Dance Theater’s “Bring it Home 2018.” Eduardo Patino photo

“Same Time, Next Year” was Slade’s first play and effort to take on more substantial projects after a decade of developing and writing multiple novelty television sitcoms, including “Bewitched,” “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family.”

“Broadway is where I always wanted to be. I always felt that my Hollywood thing was like a hiatus, though it put me on my feet financially, and gave me the freedom to go out and write plays,” said Slade in a recent “Partridge Family” fan-site interview.

Although the play has been criticized for justifying infidelity, Slade used the scenario as a gimmick, which like his television creations, has made “Same Time, Next Year” an enduring, well-liked comedy for over 40 years.

What is unusual about George and Doris’ relationship is that they develop deep concerns for each other’s families, discussing births, deaths, marital problems and the events of the day. Their dialogue feels real because a great deal was directly lifted from Slade and Foster’s real marriage. They even played George and Doris in a Canadian community theater production. Slade often used his own life in his scripts, naming the Partridge kids after his children and borrowing comical family calamities.

From 1950 to 1975, George ages into conservatism, while Doris embraces the changes brought forth in the 1960s and ’70s. Their sex life contributes to keeping them together, but the play is about a quarter-century of conversations that vary from the Cold War to the Kennedys, pop fads, analysis, Vietnam and Gloria Steinem.

I sat with Lee, Sullivan and Director Lee Garrow last week at the ProArts Playhouse and asked the trio what they like best about the script.

“A good romantic comedy is just the best,” said Sullivan, “Whether a play, TV or film, if you’re older than 17 and younger than dead, you can associate with something if the writing is good.”

“I love the stories that they tell each other (George and Doris) about their spouses,” said Garrow. “They still love their spouses very much, and you feel that in the storytelling. They tell one good story and one bad story every year when they meet again. This play doesn’t promote having an affair, it promotes uncommon friendship.”

“I like that it deals with the concept of soul mates,” added Lee. “People come into your life unexpectedly and can affect you in such a personal way that it changes the course of your life. They (George and Doris) don’t share a life, but they share these moments that are integral to their lives,” she said.

I asked if they thought the script was too dated for a modern audience.

“It’s more relevant to the time, but the story line is not dated. We’ve all been through relationships — the hours of conversation, the sweet stuff and the hard talks,” Lee shared.

“The idea is not dated,” echoed Garrow. “The facts set the time. I lived through them, but I have to admit I didn’t anticipate needing to explain who Barry Goldwater, Chet Huntley and Butterfly McQueen were. I thought, ‘How do you not know about this?’ Then I suddenly realized, ‘Oh my God, I’m 30 years older than Patty,’ “ he mused.

“There are period facts in the conversations, but the scenarios are the same as today. You could easily replace a Vietnam argument with Iraq, and Goldwater with Trump,” commented Sullivan.

“Right,” added Lee. “I’m sure that I might feel the same way as Doris in dating a man that voted for Trump.”

We also talked about the realism of the play.

“You could take 80 percent and apply it to any married couple’s conversations,” said Sullivan.

“All of the stories they tell each other are believable — they could have really happened, so it makes sense that he (Slade) took them from his own marriage,” said Garrow.

I asked the two if they could identify with their characters.

“I can definitely identify with Doris’ self-assuredness. She’s a feminist with a lot of lofty goals, but in a box and trying to break out of it,” said Lee.

“George has a lot of insecurity and he’s prone to panicking,” said Sullivan. “I was that way when I was younger. I was very high-strung in any ‘I can’t handle this’ situation,” he said.

Garrow shared his delight in the cast.

“At the audition when I saw Patty, I immediately thought, ‘That’s Doris.’ I wasn’t as instantly certain with Neil, but on the first night when he picked up the script he instantly became George,” Garrow said.

When the original production was being cast in 1974, Slade advocated for Alan Alda to play George, but because of Alda’s “M.A.S.H.” schedule, he was unable to accept the role. Charles Grodin and Ellen Burstyn were cast, but initial rehearsals were delayed while she completed the Martin Scorsese film, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”

The Broadway production was an overnight sensation and the film rights were quickly acquired by Universal Pictures. Universal wanted two “name actors” for the film version and passed on the stage cast until Burstyn won a Tony for “Same Time, Next Year” and an Oscar for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” in the same year. Slade again went to bat for Alda, who joined Burstyn in the 1978 film after “M.A.S.H.” had wrapped for the season.

Though less successful than the stage version, the film has fueled familiarity and five decades of “Same Time, Next Year” regional theater productions.

Garrow worked on one of those regional theater productions 30 years ago in Wisconsin.

“It was a conservative theater and a conservative time so certain lines were cut. I have a lot of fond memories of that production, which is why I immediately agreed to (do it) when I was approached to direct. It’s real life, people talk this way, and adult lines no longer need to be cut because the world has grow up,” Garrow shared.

Lee commented on the slightly scandalous adult themes and language.

“Some of my dearest friends find the idea shocking. It’s a slice of life and an intimate look at the things that happen privately between couples — you’re just seeing it. This is what an affair looks like,” she said.

Upcoming

Adaptations Dance Theater presents 2018’s “Bring it Home,” bringing home dancers and choreographers with close ties to Hawaii to perform original dance works.

* Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday, July 6 and Saturday, July 7 at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Seabury Hall campus in Makawao. An opening night gala will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and tickets include beverages, pupu and live music. The Friday night gala and performance is a 21 and older event. Attendees may bring their own beer and wine, and will also have the opportunity to mingle with the artists at the after party. All ages are welcome to the Saturday performance. Tickets to the opening night gala are $55. Saturday tickets are $29 for adults and $15 for students. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit www.adaptationsdancetheater.com.

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