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Theater Notes: Another triumph for Lab Theater

By Staff | Mar 25, 2015

This play is destined for soldout houses the way their “Cabaret” was. “Same Time Next Year” by Bernard Slade is one of my longtime favorites. It was a Tony Award nominee in 1975, and it did win the Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play. I suspect many of you will remember the movie with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. What a gem that is.

This feel-good play starts with a delightful, almost whimsical idea. A man and a woman, strangers, meet somewhere near San Francisco, and end up in a one-night stand that will impact their lives forever. What fun it is hear them try to figure out what happened. They are not serial adulterers. And with the joys of live theater, you become very attached to the mess and the delights they get themselves into.

Well, the first time was so agreeable, they decide to meet again next year for a romantic time away from their spouses and their children. Both of them really doubting the other one will show up. But show up they do, and the playfulness between them just gets richer and richer. You’ll probably think, as I did, this is Neil Simon at his best.

So what happens is that for 24 years they continue to meet. When they do, they always start with two stories each must tell. The stories are about their real wife and real husband. One story is always something mean and ugly their official mate did in the previous year, and one about something particularly sweet, kind and good the mate did. Oh, I could feel people in the audience thinking what stories would they tell if asked. How truthful can they be?

Now the genius of the play is that from year to year the society changes and they change, too. A clever device is that the scene for the next year is introduced by some radio news current to that year. It starts with F.D.R. at the end of World War II. Another year we hear Kennedy. Another time we’re into the Vietnam War, then Nixon resigning, and Gerald Ford assuming the presidency. There’s one about one of the Bushes and Iraq. These audio flashes were done so skillfully they advanced the story, giving it an extra edge of surprise, delight and truth.

Those production values stem clearly from the team director Scott Carpenter built. Annette Trossbach, artistic director at The Laboratory Theater of Florida, surrounds herself with genuine talent, loyal to the mission of what community theater can do. Carpenter really delivered. Hats off, too, to Lois Kuehne who was responsible for the fully detailed set of the seedy hotel, and also for her superb vintage costumes that really painted what was going on in each of the ensuing years the couple comes back to the hotel. The playbill credits Rosie DeLeon and Matthew DeNoncour for what they brought to the excellent light and sound tech.

The cast was perfectly picked. James Recca as George, tall and lanky awkward and decent, hardly your everyday seducer, wore his role like it was written for him. And the very talented Tammy Richardson who plays Doris had this smile that killed you, and made her Catholic background fit like badly taught Baltimore catechism.

You will see all of that. The two of them together were so good they charmed that audience into one of the loudest standing ovations of the season.

Brace yourself for surprise after surprise. Quit trying to guess how it’s going to turn out, and get into the shoes of each of them as they face the guilt and duplicity back home. And the chemistry in that hotel room. There are many touching moments. It’s wrapped in laughter, but it is all real.

I’ll tell you just one of the great moments. It won’t ruin it for you. One year things are bad with both marriages, and Doris gives her best friend the hotel room phone number. George picks up the phone and it’s Doris’s husband. Very aggressively the husband asks, “Who are you?”

The tension mounts. George, half protecting Doris, honestly explains “I’ve been Doris’s friend for twenty years.” Trapped in a new commitment to be totally honest, he adds. “We’ve met each year at this time.”

Those of us in the audience know that Doris has used as an excuse to meet George each year that she was going to a Catholic retreat north of San Francisco. When Doris’s husband yells, “What’s your name?” What did George say? You’ll have to go find out for yourself.

I urge you to get yourself to the box office as fast as you can, because this is one of the best examples I know of a play that brings a lovely “Feel Good” evening to its audience, but at the same time raises some really important issues to confront that audience.

Let’s start with adultery. Or issues about getting old without ever finding yourself or topics about fighting for what you really, really want from a marriage. The talk home in the car was certainly lively.

“Same Time Next Year” runs only until March 28. Tickets will be hard to find. Call the box office, the sooner the better, at (239) 218-0481. Or order on the website at laboratorytheaterflorida.com. You will be so glad you saw this play.

The next attraction at Lab Theater will be “The Diary of Anne Frank” April 10-May 2. I’m told that some performances of it are already sold out. No wonder. They do exceptionally good work down there at Woodford Avenue where it meets Second Avenue in Ft. Myers.

I might see you there. I liked it so much, I’m going try and catch it again!!