That's the premise of Bernard Slade's 1975 Same Time, Next Year, now on stage at Live Theatre Workshop. The play was extremely popular during its 3 1/2-year Broadway run, and it spawned a well-liked movie. It's the sort of thing Neil Simon used to toss off on his better days: not as sophisticated as the playwright thinks it is, but populated by endearingly neurotic characters flicking snappy comic lines at each other. It's not particularly deep, but neither is it distressingly shallow. Seeing this play is like enjoying a nice, warm bath without leaving a ring in the tub.
Indeed, George and Doris are two rubber duckies; they seem a little goofy, yet their forms are basically familiar, and no matter how much Slade may poke them and contort them and make them squeak, they're ultimately resilient enough to hold their shape.
The play begins in 1951, on the morning after their first taste of infidelity, and checks in every five years or so over the course of 25 annual one-night stands. George and Doris aren't really cut out for infidelity; they initially feel extremely guilty about it, and they never fool around aside from their little assignation every year. They show each other pictures of their kids, and have a ritual of telling each other one good story and one bad story about their spouses. And usually, the spouses come off pretty well, even in the bad stories.
It takes George until 1970 to exhaust his repertory of variations on being repressed and compulsive (at one point, Doris accuses him of having a scarlet A sewn onto his jockey shorts). Doris, meanwhile, grows much more steadily, evolving from a naïve and bemused high school dropout to a successful, college-educated business leader. Along the way, Slade pokes fun at a full generation of American folly, from conventional 1950s morality through Goldwater Republicans and Berkeley hippies to Transactional Analysis.
The Live Theatre Workshop production, directed with a light touch by Dana Armstrong, comes together nicely. Jeremy Thompson (George) and Kristi Loera (Doris) have appeared together onstage many times and this season are LTW's co-directors; they have just the right chemistry for these roles, with their characters' relationship based on companionability rather than lust. For even though this play hinges on infidelity, it's actually about commitment: the lovers' commitment to each other, and to their spouses (and, in a strange way, each to the other's spouse).
The play is also about identity and growth, and Thompson and Loera, with one exception, do a fine job of maintaining consistency even as their characters evolve from scene to scene. George and Doris start out doofy and dim, respectively, and it's a pleasure to watch them grow up.
The exception is the 1965 scene, where Slade sabotages the actors by plunging his characters into a Republican vs. hippie dispute without adequate psychological preparation. (And in the next scene, each goes in exactly the opposite direction.)
Otherwise, this production of Same Time, Next Year is easy to like, and, as we struggle out of our holiday fatigue, it's a pleasant thing to see just at this time, this year.