ONSTAGE in Bedford
Direction and Sound Design by David Wilson-Brown
Scenic Design by Charlotte Newman and Jim Scroggins
Lighting Design by Michael B. Winters
Costume Design by Derek C. Whitener
Properties Design by Kristen Frazer
Melanie Mason as Doris
Lon Barrera as George
Photographer James Jamison
Reviewed Performance 2/14/2014
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Same Time, Next Year, currently playing at ONSTAGE in Bedford, is a romantic comedy about a chance meeting between two people who after spending the night together, agree to meet the next year, then each year for the next 20 years, and at the same time and location. Written in 1975 by Bernard Slade, the Broadway production opened on Broadway in March, 1975 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre starring Ellen Burstyn as Doris and Charles Grodin as George. Over the years, the roles of Doris and George have been played on stage by Sandy Dennis, Hope Lange, Loretta Swift and Joyce Van Patten. The role of George has been played by Ted Bessell, Conrad Janis, Monte Markham and Don Murray.
The play was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New American Play. For her role as Doris, Ellen Burstyn was nominated and won the Tony Award for Best Actress and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. Gene Saks, was nominated for for Best Direction of a Play and nominated for a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Direction of a Play. After three years of hit success on stage, Bernard Slade wrote the screen play for Same Time, Next Year in 1978. Directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Ellen Burstyn as Doris and Alan Alda as George, the film received mixed reviews by the critics. Despite that, it received several distinguished Academy Award nominations including Best Cinematography (Robert Surtees), Best Adapted Screenplay (Bernard Slade), and Best Song ("The Last Time I Felt Like This”). Golden Globe Award nominations were received for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Alda), and Best Song. Ellen Burstyn won a Golden Globe for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Bernard Slade received a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay nomination.
Director David Wilson-Brown stays true to the stage version and keeps the location of the story inside a room at a California seaside inn. Using a stage design that gives the impression of studio hotel room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, costumes and makeup designs that span from the late 50’s to mid 70’s, and the considerable talents of the two actors, the play has just those two characters to carry the story and make the emotional connections between them and the audience. For the most part it all works successfully.
ONSTAGE has a contemporary design with a comfortable and intimate feel for the audience. Wilson-Brown’s sound design includes a variety of songs for pre-show music, mostly with a romantic theme that range from tinny-sounding recordings of the 40’s to more upbeat 70’s styles. Likewise, during scene changes and intermission the music progressed through the same time period, 50’s through the 70’s, as the story line. One particular song, late in the show, matched the scene so well that many members of the audience reacted emotionally. The only sound flaw was that at times it was difficult to hear Melanie Mason as Doris.
Scenic design by Charlotte Newman and Jim Scroggins, and properties design by Kristen Frazer create the feel and reality of the 1950’s California inn. The upstage wall is almost entirely windows covered by sheer drapery that allows a full view of the ocean beyond. The center window is a working one for Doris to climb out of early in the play. The ocean scene is impressively done and looks realistic, with clouds hovering in the sky. There were a few occasions during scene changes when the entrance door was left open by crew members, allowing the audience to see the edges of the screen for the backdrop. The walls of the set are angled slightly inward, giving the room an appearance of depth. They are all painted non-descript shades of tan and brown, and there is very little other color in the room, with the exception of watercolor paintings on both the right and left walls. These look like the typical wall art that was common in the 70’s. Wall sconces placed in several places are apparently not functional as they are never lighted. A working fireplace is used in one of the later scenes in the play. A sofa with multiple cushions is set center and is one of three focal points for the actors. On the opposite side of the stage from the fireplace is the bed where the play opens and where many scenes begin and end. Upstage of the bed is the entrance to the bathroom, and is also used as scene entrances and exits for the actors. Sitting very prominently on a small bed table is a black phone from the 40’s that is never updated despite the changes in decoration styles of the passing years. While the set is dressed appropriately, time-wise, for the opening, it is disappointing that none of the room decorations are updated as the years pass.
Lighting design by Michael B. Winters projects a variety of blues, reds, ambers, and direct lighting appropriate to the various moods of the scenes. The lighting also highlights the ocean in the background.
Derek C. Whitener is to be commended for accepting the challenge of designing costumes and hairstyles that span almost three decades. Through
-out the show, Whitener works with each character in an effort to keep their look realistic and appropriate to the time period. He uses various hairstyles and wigs for Doris and makes slight changes in George’s hair, including graying it as the years go by. The costumes start with the more conservative “Leave It To Beaver Look” style of the 50’s, progress through the “hippie style” of the 1960’s, and finish with clothes that could have been plucked from a 70’s episode of “Love American Style” or “The Brady Bunch”. Most of the time the styles work, the glaring exception being the fake moustache George wears in one scene. It looked so unnatural that it distracted from the action as I watched and waited to see if it was going to fall off.
Since there are only two characters in this play, it is imperative that the two actors have the skills needed to believably feel and show a wide range of emotions; from that nervous feeling of waking up in the morning next to someone you just met to, through the arguments that come when two people open their souls to each other, to the grief and joys that happen in life as they age and physically and psychologically change over many years.
Melanie Mason as Doris and Lon Barrera as George are brilliant actors that beautifully bring their characters to life. Mason’s Doris believably responds, adapts and changes as situations and years progress. From the opening scene where Doris lies nervously in bed to the closing scene where she is strong and adamant in her resolution, Mason portrays the physical and emotional changes that happen in the life of Doris so well that the audience can believe the person on stage is actually going through these life changes.
Barrera, likewise, is a George that realistically shows the nervousness and neurotic guilt of “I can’t believe we did what I think we did in the play’s opening. Barrera takes the audience through a roller-coaster of emotional transitions, from that neurotic guilt-ridden, nervous man in lust to a self confident person who grows to believe in himself. Early in the show, Barrera stuttered a bit and seemed to miss lines and improvise. It then became clear that the stutters and nervous floundering were Barrera’ choice to show George’s normal human characteristics that make him real.
Bravo to Barrera and Mason for deftly playing George and Doris as human beings with stutters and flaws, insecurities, neurotics and inconsistencies with each other, and for allowing the audience to see the growth and changes in their characters as time went on. The sheer amount of dialogue these two actors delivered in an over two hour play is astounding. The fact that they present the lives of these two characters in ways to which people can relate and believe in is to be admired.
Same Time, Next Year is billed as a romantic comedy about two people, initially meeting for a romantic dinner, that ultimately creates the physical and emotion depth of connection usually found only in fairy tales. It is the story of two people that develop the physical and emotional bond that endures over distance and time.
I had never before been to ONSTAGE in Bedford. After seeing this production, it will likely not be my last time. This is a story that does not have to be seen just on Valentine’s Day. It is a human story that should be experienced anytime.
SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR
ONSTAGE in Bedford
2821 Forest Ridge Dr., Bedford, TX 76021
Runs through March 2nd
This play is rated PG.
Friday - Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $14.99, seniors/students $12.00, Bedford resident $12.00 For information, go to http://www.onstageinbedford.com/ or call the box office at 817-354-6444.