Preparing the cast for ‘Same Time, Next Year’
Impressively detailed and charmingly convincing, the magnificent bed-and-breakfast set for Sonoma Arts Live’s production of “Same Time, Next Year” features a prominently positioned king-size bed, adorned with fluffy pillows and a thick, gold comforter.
Less than a week before its Feb. 12 opening night, members of the design crew scamper up and down ladders, adjusting spotlights and arranging items on the set, which is a true pleasure to behold, nicely filling out the weeping, soaring stage of Sonoma Community Center’s Andrews Hall. That bed – now in the process of being properly lit – does look remarkably comfortable.
“It’d better be comfortable!” laughs director Joey Hoeber. “That bed gets a lot of action in this show!”
Best known for the 1978 film version starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, “Same Time, Next Year” started out as a stage comedy, running nearly four years on Broadway, where Burstyn and Charles Grodin created the roles of Doris and George, two strangers who meet in Mendocino in 1951 and begin an affair, despite the fact that he’s a married accountant from New Jersey and she’s a housewife from Oakland. For the next 24 four years, as the ‘50s fade into the’60s and then the ‘70s, Doris and George meet for one weekend each year, always returning to their original trysting spot. The play, as written by Bernard Slade – who created “The Flying Nun” and “The Partridge Family” as it happens – is as much about the way George and Doris are gradually changed by the clandestine relationship (and the shifting times), as it is about a lovable pair of serial cheaters attempting to maintain a big secret for two-and-a-half decades.
“I’ve seen the movie, of course,” says actress Jennifer Peck, who’s just arrived for the rehearsal. Peck plays Doris, putting her own spin on a role that earned Burstyn an Oscar nomination. “The movie a classic,” she says, “and I’ve always loved it, but I never imagined I’d end up playing that character. Doris goes through so many changes, which are really fun to play. I especially enjoy her ‘flower child’ moment.”
“I’ve never seen the movie,” admits Hoeber as he waits for Cameron Stuckey, who plays George, to arrive. “But when I read the play, I saw how truly funny and moving it was. And the idea of opening ‘Same Time, Next Year’ on Valentine’s Day weekend! That could really work, if I could find the right two actors to play George and Doris.”
Hoeber immediately knew that he wanted Peck and Stuckey for the show. Both featured in last year’s production of the Neil Simon comedy “Jake’s Women,” and were instant audience favorites. According to Hoeber, the two actors demonstrate a remarkable amount of onstage chemistry.
As if on cue, Stuckey walks in, and he immediately falls into a playfully entertaining give-and-take with Peck, making jokes and launching into various cartoon voices and outrageous accents. “See, this is what I mean,” says Hoeber. “How could I not want to cast them together again, when this is what rehearsals are like?”
With casting complete, Hoeber then had to face the challenging technical aspects of staging a story that takes place in six increments spread over the course of 24 years, each new scene separated by five years. Not only do Doris and George grow older, their style of dress changes with the times. And then there’s the matter of how to keep the audience engaged during those costume changing, age-enhancing transitions.