If you’re looking for a nostalgic step in time then step into the Greenbelt Arts Center’s production of Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year, directed by Stephen C. Yednock, Sr. (Stephen Yednock, Jr. is the producer). While not a laugh-out-loud comedy, the show had an endearing quality with quirky fun moments that will warm the hearts of everyone, married or not, who go to see it. The play focuses on a man, George (Ken Kemp) and a woman, Doris (Susan Harper) who are married, just not to each other. They meet up by chance in California and a romantic weekend tryst ensues. A romantic weekend, which they decided to hold onto once a year, every year, for twenty four years. The play explores the changes in George and Doris over time as well as the changes of the world reflected in these characters as the years go by; a rewarding experience of ageless love.
From the moment you enter the theatre you get the sense of old fashioned nostalgia. The set, designed by Erica Drezek, is simplistic but it creates the necessary atmosphere to spiral the audience back to the play’s opening scene in 1951. From the rustic wallpaper and simple pattern bedspread the audience gets the cozy sense of the California cottage where this intimate relationship is about to unfold. This quaint little set is enhanced by the unique soundtrack, arranged by Scott Bringen, which eases the transition between years; each scene taking place five or six years later than the previous one.
As each new year folds to a close the music of the next approaching year floats melodiously through the darkness. The songs of the time period make a nice touch, you could hear the audience humming and singing along in the blackouts of the scene changes; but be prepared for these long pregnant pauses between scenes. Overall, they slow the pace of the show, taking too long to set the mood. It’s distracting and a bit more than time consuming. The lengthy blackouts overlaid with music of the times almost seem unnecessary as a device to show that time has passed because the lavish costumes do exactly that with very little effort.
From the wild leopard print boxers and lady’s jumpsuit to the more traditional below-the-knee beige skirt the costumes said it all. Dory Gean Cunningham (with additional costumes from Flo Arnold) hits her mark with each year; giving the audience a clear indication through the over-the-top clothing as to exactly where the couple is in time; be it with the groovy bell-bottom jeans and peace sign necklace from the scene set in 1965, or classy cream Jackie Kennedy style hat during the 1961 scene; you’ll notice the time changes best just by watching the clothes as they come on and off the actors.
The performances are endearing with quirky moments that will give you the giggles. For every shocking moment of surprise or witty retort, George (Ken Kemp) has a parade of expressions across his face. In such an intimate theatre space it is important to see his reactions displayed so readily. Kemp’s emotive expressions make the show that much funnier as you watch his character progress through the years. He is well grounded in his choices; no idle movement back and forth, and he has clear intention behind his character as he argues, guilt-trips, and accepts his way through 24 years of an affair that grows to be so much more. Kemp grows as the character grows; creating a dynamic man who you just can’t help but feel for as he rides the ups and downs of life.
Susan Harper’s performance is uneven. She spends many scenes idly moving around the stage from one chair to the other. The character changes in every scene, growing, going through life with many ups and downs but Harper’s performance leaves Doris flat, almost on the same level at which she started the show. The quirky naïve young girl from act one scene one is the same woman we see by 1975, only she’s calmer. Harper fails to deliver the increasing intensity that Doris deserves as a dynamic ever-changing character. She does, however, physically manifest the character extremely well, from her nervous clutching at her chest during the early stages, to her very pregnant waddle later in the show.
When all is said and done – you step out of 1975 with a warm and fuzzy feeling- an endearing tender story of love and life that had its funny moments. If you need a little romantic pick-me-up, be you married, in love, or just a part of life, Same Time, Next Year is calling your name.
Running time is 130 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
Same Time Next Year plays through October 15th at Greenbelt Arts Center – 123 Centerway, in Greenbelt MD. For tickets, call the box office (301-441-877), or purchase your tickets online.