Love Will Keep Them Together

When Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year debuted on Broadway in 1975, the play about a man and a woman who rendezvous once a year at a California inn was praised for its "genuinely funny" look at how attitudes toward marriage had changed between the Donna Reed era and the Watergate years. In 1978, a highly popular movie version starring Ellen Burstyn and Alan Alda seemed to confirm that the country was indeed experiencing a major shift in morality.

These days, though, the swinging Seventies look pretty tame. Given today's views about relationships, Slade's play brings to mind a happier, simpler time when the hottest Washington gossip wasn't about the chief executive's affair with a White House intern but whether Jerry Ford had tripped over another Oval Office antique.

Even so, the Aurora Fox Theatre's enjoyable production isn't just a trip down memory lane. True, the characters briefly talk about events, personalities and fads specific to each of the time periods in which the play's six scenes take place. In addition, director Terry Dodd's musical choices--such as Hank Williams's "Your Cheatin' Heart," Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful" and the Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road"--evoke memories of the years between 1951, when Doris (Cody Alexander) and George (Frank Oden) first hop in the sack, and 1975, when they talk of ending their quarter-century affair. But for all the production's nostalgic touches (including the obligatory use of a lava lamp in Act Two), the two-hour romantic comedy is ultimately about the sea changes in life that, irrespective of time or distance, transform all relationships. It's also about the conflicts that inevitably arise when one partner is on a path that the other has yet to discover or has long ago abandoned.

There's George's sudden diversion into psychotherapy and analysis, for instance, which occurs five years after Doris's decision to let it all hang out and become a middle-aged flower child. As fate would have it, Doris later regresses to her former matronly self right about the time that George discovers the liberating wonders of being in touch with his feelings. But as they demonstrate, loving someone doesn't always mean being perpetually in sync with his or her peculiar biorhythms. Indeed, during one of the show's most poignant scenes, George and Doris lean on each other in an unexpected way. Fraught with anger and unresolved grief after having lost a son in Vietnam, the ultra-establishment George winds up confronting his emotions--and, in the original Broadway production, making something of a social statement--by resting his head on Doris's hippie shoulder and breaking down uncontrollably as the pair of arch political adversaries tenderly embrace. As happens throughout the production, Alexander and Oden manage to convey the urgency of the moment while investing the scene with gentle good humor. In fact, whether they're discussing the morality of their characters' situation, the well-being of their family members or Ethel Kennedy's obvious penchant for bearing children (one of several period references that will likely resonate only with theatergoers over the age of thirty), the veteran performers are always a pleasure to watch.

To be sure, a few lines, such as when George declares that he has a "fantastic hard-on" or laments that his wife "broke my pecker," serve to remind us that an era marked by cheesy fashions, bland politics and perplexing artwork will likewise never be remembered for its contributions to the English language. And Alexander and Oden sometimes gloss over episodes that seem to call for a more considered approach. Shortly after Frank takes a phone call from his young daughter, for example, and tells Doris that he's having second thoughts about staying for the rest of the weekend, he notes in passing that he wouldn't want to "stop committing adultery" with Doris. Instead of laying some rubber on the highway of George's newfound integrity, however, Oden cruises through the moment and, as a result, misses a chance to add an important dimension to his otherwise engaging portrayal. Similarly, both performers occasionally seem a bit tense when it comes to making transitions during conversations--an awkwardness, perhaps, that was simply a case of opening-weekend jitters.

Minor worries aside, the actors hit their stride midway through Act One and perform the play's last few scenes with a pleasing mixture of playful affection and negotiated comfort. No matter how old-fashioned an idea it might appear to be, George and Doris remind us that while it was sex that drew them together in the first place, self-respect and concern for each other's well-being will forever unite them in spirit.

Same Time, Next Year, through May 8 at the Aurora Fox Theatre, 9900 East Colfax, 303-361-2910.

 
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