Fulfilling relationships

Ridge production features great acting in a funny and compelling story.

A NEW TWIST TO TYING THE KNOT <br>Doris, (Ryan A. Beattie) helps George (Paul Stout) get his act together in TOTR’s production of <i>Same Time Next Year</i>.

Doris, (Ryan A. Beattie) helps George (Paul Stout) get his act together in TOTR’s production of Same Time Next Year.

Photo by Tom Angel

It’s 1951.

He’s a CPA with a young family who flies out to California from New Jersey once a year to do the books for a friend with a vineyard; she’s an ex-convent schoolgirl who travels up from Oakland once a year to a religious retreat. She got knocked up at 18, thus depriving her husband of a career in dentistry and earning her mother-in-law’s eternal enmity. One night at a local restaurant, these two exchange glances from across the room, two very different people at the same place, at the same time. And when he buys her a steak (the place doesn’t sell drinks), flirtation sets in and one thing leads to another.

The opening scene in Bernard Slade’s funny and occasionally moving play, Same Time, Next Year, depicts the next-morning aftermath of that initial encounter. We first meet George and Doris in bed. And as they slowly gather their wits about them, we learn that each is a clever, funny person. Both love their spouses and are proud of their children. Both have ambitions and dreams for the future. Yet, somehow in this little cottage somewhere in Northern California, these two find a mutual center, a place where they can see their lives objectively and communicate without fear their innermost hopes and horrors. We watch their relationship grow in a progressive set of scenes, each five years later, and we slowly become convinced that it is not only possible for some people to conduct more than one fulfilling relationship, but also perhaps even natural.

As Doris, Ryan A. Beattie is terrifically understated. She does seemingly nothing acting-wise and yet conveys volumes about who Doris is and what she’s about. As the times change and Doris’ hairstyle, clothing and attitude change, Beattie still suggests a consistency in Doris’ character—her outer appearance has only a little to do with her inner life.

As George, Paul Stout brings many of the same aspects to his character. However, Stout is used to moving around a bit more. This doesn’t distract from his character in the least. In fact, it reflects George accurately—occasionally guilt-ridden, ambitious, quick-witted … one way or another the character is often in motion. Stout’s sense of inflection is simultaneously natural and dramatic. He knows just when to alter his tone of voice and the speed of his delivery not only to convey what his character is feeling, but to produce an emotional resonance in the audience as well. It’s great to see Paul back on the stage, doing what he does best, after too long an absence.

Regardless of how well the individual actors work their characters, it would matter little were it not for the delightful chemistry between these two. One scene in particular stands out. Set in 1965, when Doris has returned to college and gotten involved in the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and George has become a work-obsessed, wary conservative, Doris’ exhilaration at the possibilities the Sixties are seemingly bringing is simultaneously countered by and intertwined with George’s increasing tension, his pointed observations that the whole country’s gone crazy. These build to a jolting revelation. Both Beattie and Stout play the scene as if they were two musical instruments, their voices moving intricately to an inescapable crescendo.

The set is simple and effective. Furniture in the cottage changes as time dictates. The props, too: suitcases, handbags, et cetera, all have an authenticity as to period. The sound is good as well, but I do have one minor complaint here: The song that is played at the start of the first scene is from much later than 1951. It’s surprising they didn’t go with Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” or some other Your Hit Parade chestnut. But this glitch, as stated before, is minor.

In any case, this is as solid a production as TOTR has assembled. It’s something to be proud of. And, for the rest of us, to catch these two seasoned performers at their best is more than worth a trip up the hill.