You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder how well you really know your parents.
“Same Time, Next Year” by Bernard Slade is the hilarious and poignant story of a 24-year extramarital affair that the participants’ children know nothing about. Doris (Mackenzie Phillips) and George (Adrian Zmed) remain happily married to their spouses, but meet the same time every year for a romantic rendezvous — hence the show’s title.
But the two characters end up sharing much more than a bed. Spanning the time from 1951 to 1975, the play touches on both cultural and personal milestones as the two characters become increasingly intertwined.
Presented as a series of six vignettes, the story follows the characters from young lovebirds to mature adults. Each scene finds Doris and George coping with various relationship problems: tentativeness, political squabbles, marital concerns, the birth of a child, the death of a child, and finally the death of a spouse. This progression lends verisimilitude to the pseudo-marriage feel of the play, and helps the audience identify with the adulterous characters.
Visually, the play does an excellent job of transporting the audience from scene to scene. Phillips switches gracefully from quintessential ’50s house wife to ’60s flower child to ’70s working woman. Likewise, Zmed’s character maturation is impressive: we see him grow from a nervous young accountant to a more confident businessman to fulfilled college professor.
Both leads succeed in conveying the depth of the characters’ relationship, despite some initial awkwardness.
Zmed, perhaps best known for his role opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in “Grease 2,” is refreshingly energetic. Displaying an obvious zeal for the role, he leaps into every scene with a grasp of the character and a flair for comic timing.
Phillips is an amazing example of sensitive and thoughtful acting. Her reactions are real and moving, never overplayed. The audience watches Phillips go from girlish innocent to wizened woman in a little under two hours. Phillips’ transformation, achieved partly with wigs and costumes but mostly with skilled acting, is the most rewarding part of the play.
Both Zmed and Phillips work hard throughout the show to establish both physical and emotional bonds. The problem is that occasionally it looks like work. The chemistry lags in the beginning but picks up as the two relax into their roles, eventually allowing the audience to believe that perhaps this curious relationship can work.
In the end, as throughout the play, Doris and George aren’t able to stay together and can’t stay apart. It’s a shame, but we hope they’ll meet again next year.