If you only see someone once a year, do you really have a relationship with them? What if you continue seeing them for decades? What if you have sex every time you see each other?
Those are some of the questions at the heart of Same Time, Next Year, the hilarious and fascinating play which wraps up the summer theatre season at the Orillia Opera House.
The script by Bernard Slade has been a hit for years. It won a Tony award when it first played on Broadway and was later made into a successful film. It’s great material for a director and cast, and the Opera House’s production works magic with it.
The play is set in a small resort in California. It opens in 1951, and George and Doris have just woken up after a one-night stand. They are irresistibly drawn to each other, with passionate sparks that fly every time they touch. But since they are both happily married to other people, the situation is complicated.
Their solution is to meet at the same resort once a year, to have a passionate affair and then go back to their regular lives until the next year.
It’s a gorgeous play, witty, engaging, and peopled with characters who will stay with you for days afterward.
The script is strong, but with two characters who go through an enormous development arc over the course of 30 years, it requires a powerful cast to pull it off. Viviana Zarrillo and Nigel Hammer are just such a cast, and director Jesse Collins knows exactly what to do with them.
In some scenes, it seems that Collins may have made the wise decision to take a light directorial hand and just let the actors work with each other.
Zarrillo and Hammer are old friends who have performed together countless times over the years, bringing a natural chemistry to the stage (Orillia audiences enjoyed them immensely last summer in Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite.)
The scenes in the second act, when George and Doris have been together for years, are particularly memorable.
But Zarrillo and Hammer aren’t just great friends, they are also incredible performers, capable of capturing the transformations each character goes through as they age before our eyes.
The play’s six scenes are set five years apart, giving us a window into the complex lives of these characters. We come to know not only Doris and George, but their spouses and children, who begin to take on a rich life even though they are only seen through the stories Doris and George tell each other.
The first few scenes are screamingly funny (playwright Slade cut his teeth as an enormously successful sitcom writer before turning to live theatre), but gradually we move from laughing at the characters to caring deeply about them.
George is self-absorbed and somewhat neurotic, and Hammer does a superb job of keeping that insecurity present in the character, even as the passing years let him build a shell of seeming confidence around himself.
And Zarillo is mesmerizing as Doris progresses from insecure housewife to retired businesswoman with multiple stops in between.
This is a tremendous show which should not be missed. If you have seen the play before, you owe it to yourself to see the magic that this production brings to the stage.
Same Time, Next Year runs at the Orillia Opera House until Aug. 30.