Cherry Creek Theatre production runs through Feb. 27
Many will remember Bernard Slade’s adulterous 1975 comedy Same Time, Next Year from the film adaptation starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. The premise practically screams 1975, with its suburban key parties and exploration of sexual mores.
Does it translate to 2022? I’m not sure it does.
Cherry Creek Theatre’s production features Lauren Bahlman as Doris and Eric Mather as George, who meet at an inn in 1951 and share a rendezvous. George is an accountant who flies out to Northern California once a year to do the books for a friend’s business. Doris is a housewife who escapes once a year to a retreat during her mother-in-law’s birthday. Both of them are happily married to other people, but they feel an immediate chemistry with each other. And what starts out as a one-night stand turns into 24 years of them as they sneak away and enjoy their time together.
They establish their own ground rules, one of which is that they will each tell one unflattering story about their spouse, and one positive one. And beyond this one weekend a year, they don’t contact each other. Following their initial 1951 meeting, we see Doris and George in 1956, 1961, 1965, 1970, and 1975. We see the changing times and attitudes in their conversation, clothes, and hair and go from their 20s to their 40s. Doris finishes her high school diploma, then goes to Berkley and starts her own successful business. George has a son in Vietnam and undergoes several career shifts himself.
It’s this portrayal of the passage of time that probably works best, and my guess is that those who lived through some of those times will enjoy this most. Hair is important, and wigmaster Richard Keammes earns his keep as Doris stays current. My favorite incarnation was probably hippie Doris with her bell bottoms and flower-child hair. But pregnant 1965 Doris is kind of fun, too. Both actors deliver solid performances, and some of their most tender moments are when they are talking about their spouses and telling their stories.
But therein lies the problem too, which is that you can’t really get around the premise — or the fact that the morality made much more sense in 1975. How willing are you to let a play be the product of its time?
Infidelity is as old as humanity itself, no doubt. But current sensibilities run toward non-monogamy of the ethical variety, whether that looks like an open marriage with clearly stated boundaries and rules, or couples that don’t get married at all. No matter how you look at it, the infidelity is sticky. Should these two stay married to their spouses and just be honest? Should they divorce their spouses and marry each other? In the end, they end up discussing some of these options — about 24 years after they likely should have.
And that prompts the real question: When should a dated play be relegated to the past? I couldn’t help thinking that this might just be one of those times. It didn’t seem to really draw the audience in, and I don’t think that was so much the performances of the actors as it was the material they had to work with. When they gain our sympathies, it comes too late in the game. I couldn’t help comparing it to a recent retelling of Cinderella at the Vintage Theatre — a tale as old as any, but updated to discuss race and class in a fresh and modern way. Same Time, Next Year needs a similar refresh to make it relevant to a modern audience.
That said, there is also something about a play that prompts questions and discussion of what the characters should have done and what would likely happen now. I saw Same Time, Next Year with my 27-year-old daughter, and I wouldn’t call either of us a judgmental prude. But I couldn’t help wondering if we weren’t both really too young for this, and if someone of my mother’s generation wouldn’t have seen things just a bit differently. Or … someone even older? These two are in their 20s in 1951, too old to even be baby boomers. Doris’s husband is a World War II vet. This may be best enjoyed by those who really remember wearing those bell bottoms, the first time they were in style. Or perhaps never took them out of the closet in the first place.