Bernard Slade’s endearing comedy-drama, Same Time Next Year, is now 42 years old — and yes it is a period piece. Yet, nothing seems dated about it, especially when it gets the kind of superior revival that has just opened at the Classic Theatre Festival in Perth.
It can’t be moved to the present. We must accept it on as own terms, as belonging to a particular passage of time — a quarter century of change and turbulence both in North American society and the wider world. It is a period inextricably linked to the lives of New Jersey accountant George and Oakland housewife Doris, both married with children, who meet in a Northern California Inn in 1951, have a one-night fling that is totally out of character for both of them, but are nevertheless attracted sufficiently to each other that they agree to meet in the same place once a year.
So it’s a relationship piece, but — and here’s the surprise — the relationships we learn about go far beyond the boundaries of what’s happening between George and Doris alone. The degree of trust and intimacy springing up between them in the course of their yearly trysts is such that we also hear about their individual marriages — about Doris’s lovable husband. Harry, and George’s wife Helen, a spouse gifted with razor-sharp intuition — as well as their children. There are only two characters on stage, but thanks to the performances of Scott Clarkson and Lana Sugarman, we are conscious of other lives at play — unseen lives, yes, but ones that assume their own reality in Laurel Smith’s beautifully modulated production.
George and Doris are close enough that he can say exactly what he thinks when she shocks him by showing up one year dressed as an aging flower child. Clarkson and Sugarman provide expert moments of comedy here, but they’re also reminding us of the very real intimacy existing between these two — an intimacy that takes on a different form when Doris finds herself sharing George’s loss and grief over a family tragedy.
These two performers take full advantage of Bernard Slade’s crackling comic dialogue. They trade the funny one-liners with an ease indicative of the potent on-stage chemistry existing between them. But there’s also genuine tenderness in the relationship we’re seeing. Sugarman, a delightful actress, gives us a Doris with a readiness to accept the funny side of life, but she also reveals a woman with the strength and resilience to respond to change and challenge within the emerging feminist culture of the day. Clarkson, a nimble comedian, finds an unusual depth of character in George. He also is quite astonishing in giving us a man who is gradually getting older as the evening progresses. It’s an achievement that goes beyond adding a moustache to the upper lip or pencilling a bit of grey into the sideburns.
In brief, Say Time Next Year constitutes an outstanding launch to the festival’s new season.
Same Time Next Year
By Bernard Slade
Perth Classic Theatre Festival to July 16
Director: Laurel Smith
Set Designer: Roger Schultz
Costumes: Renate Seiler
Lighting: Wesley McKenzie
George: Scott Clarkson
Doris: Lana Sugarman