Three pivotal decades endearingly deconstructed in ‘Same Time, Next Year’
ProArts Playhouse’s most virtuous contribution to Maui Theater is its devotion to consistently presenting established, well-written academic plays.
ProArts’ current production, “Same Time, Next Year” by Bernard Slade, is an ideal example of its commitment to offering stage standards infrequently seen on Maui.
The performance and production, directed by Lee Garrow, is entertaining, appealing and user-friendly, but more importantly it’s a cosmopolitan cultural achievement. Because this plot is better enjoyed when taken by surprise, I will refrain from revealing the humor of “Same Time, Next Year.”
Though well-structured, a handful of elements within the production are a bit askew. The set dressing of “Same Time, Next Year” is slightly garish and distracting, and its lighting was something less than romantic.
“Same Time, Next Year” is a fly-on-the wall perspective into an intimate adulterous relationship over the course of 25 years; a softer motif might have aided the spell of witnessing the evolution of a love affair. What triumphs immediately is the rich performance by Patty Lee as Doris, an Oakland, Calif. mother of three (and eventually four). From convincing fury to realistic labor pains to euphoria to dejection and grief, Lee skillfully displays her finest stage work to date.
Neil Sullivan, who plays her longtime lover George, lacks similar dynamic emotional depth but champions the comedic scenes as a man who is frequently in over his head. Arguably, the script is written that way, which is Slade’s style that dates back to his television shows, i.e. Samantha vs. Darrin on “Bewitched” and Shirley Partridge vs. Reuben Kincaid on “The Partridge Family.”
Lee’s likeable and layered Doris dominates the 1950 to 1960 Act One, but it is Sullivan who excels with multiple nuanced choices in the 1965 to 1975 Act Two. From his conservative outlook amidst Vietnam-burdened America to his free-minded, sensitive 1970’s progression, Sullivan evolves into the man Doris wanted him to be ten years earlier. Now it is an ambitious Doris, emboldened by women’s rights, who lacks the tenderness to cultivate both her marriage and affair.
With so many eras colliding in just under two hours, I would have welcomed a few vintage props and costume pieces to better set the scene, but the period song choices amply made up for this and aided the audience’s entry into each new half-decade.
“Same Time, Next Year’s” wonderful and unexpected ending is in many ways its greatest attribute, and perhaps why the script has edured for 43 years. There are tears, the biggest laugh of the night, joy and, in many ways, universal approval of this unconventional, irregular lifelong love affair.