Broken Arrow Community Playhouse's production of Same Time Next Year manages to turn a snappy sex comedy into a two-hour test of patience.
Written by Bernard Slade, this production is Theresa Orwig's directorial debut at the BACP. The question of whether she has directed before now remains unanswered in the program, but it's hard to imagine a performance filled with so many interminable pauses and gaps cobbled together by anyone but a green director.
The text itself also delivers a spiteful, condescending message about women's place in society, but more on that later.
Doris (Kelley Childers Friedberg) and George (Mark E. Leach) wake up in the room he has rented while on business, embarrassed and flustered about the passionate evening they've just spent together. Both of them are married, but their guilt over their infidelity dissipates quickly. From that evening on, they spend the same day every year together for the next 24 years, cheating on their spouses, not only in body, but in mind and heart as well.
Presumably, the play is a humorous look at how relationships, and the United States of America, have changed over the last few decades.
A sex comedy with exactly two characters requires absolute commitment from its actors. If the audience cannot believe in their emotional and physical relationship to one another, then, since we have nowhere else to turn our attention, the performance becomes interminable.
The play opens on these two lovebirds upon their first morning together. I found Friedberg's interpretation of youthfulness confusing, and at first assumed that Doris either had a low IQ or was mentally deranged. Friedberg compounds this problem with her odd habit of rolling her eyes and glancing out into the audience.
I understand the need to "cheat" oneself out to the audience, and I assume this was Friedberg's method of allowing us to see her face as she delivered her lines. However, it was an utter violation of the fourth wall in a play that could not accommodate such violation. Orwig should have pointed it out to Friedberg and put a stop to it.
The main reason for my confusion regarding Friedberg's and Orwig's characterization of Doris was the actor's tendency to talk through or past her acting partner, Leach.
Leach, too, delivered his lines almost as if Friedberg wasn't there. It is a waste of time to watch two actors who parrot their lines without bothering to check and see if the other character has heard and understood them. If you don't know how someone has responded to what you have said, how do you know what to say next? Hint: the answer isn't "because it's in the script."
Lines such as Doris's "You're so emotional!" ring false because Friedberg isn't taking the time to absorb Leach's worry and guilt. Likewise, Leach isn't communicating his guilt clearly. Sure, he's saying the words. I can hear him just fine.
But I can't feel his guilt because he's not allowing it to flow through his voice and his gestures. The emotional landscape of this play is therefore muted, distant.
And it's supposed to be a sex comedy!
Even their physical lives seem to spring from the embarrassment of having to touch another human being. It's like watching the most awkward, tepid porn imaginable.
I can see it now. Ravished Republicans III: Appointment for Adultery.
So the emotional and physical tones are flat and dishonest. But it's a sex comedy, right? These things are usually snappy, so we'll be out of here in no time.
Wrong. These two actors are so slow to respond to one another that you could drive monster trucks through the pauses, inflating an hour-and-a-half comedy into a two-15 yawn. It was Orwig's job to let the actors know how poorly paced the performance was. If she noticed, and if she notified them, the message didn't get through.
With at least five set changes (in a play with exactly one setting!) running two minutes each, that's about seven or eight easily cut minutes right there. Instead, the audience gets to sit in the dark and (not kidding) watch stagehands fluff pillows for two minutes at a time. By the end of the play, the audience was dissolving into giggles between scenes as these poor stagehands are, like minimum-waged Sisyphuses, condemned to an eternity of bed-making.
Don't worry, kids. We weren't laughing at you. We were laughing at your director's poor decision. Obviously she needs to cover her actors' quick changes, but creativity failed her. How about a slide-show of famous historical events occurring between each of these scenes? The two lovers discuss Vietnam in one scene, Reaganomics in another. How about some visual reminders of those times?
Also, the costumes looked as though they took a long time to don. Orwig should have encouraged her costume designer, Marni Smith, to put together costumes that could be removed and assembled more quickly. If your quick change takes longer than 30 seconds, something's wrong.
Now, here's the reason I hated this play.
Around their 24th year together, George reveals that Helen has known about the affair for 10 years, yet never said a word. She bore his infidelity with quiet dignity. Doris replies that this is the best story she's ever heard about Helen. Friedberg's inflection clearly indicates that Doris finds Helen's quiet suffering admirable.
Though I find Helen's situation tragic, I don't think there's anything heroic about it. It's lamentable, not laudable.
George cheated on his wife physically, emotionally and intellectually for 24 years. Asking the audience to treat him as anything but a mongrel is a daunting task even for someone with bigger writing chops than Bernard Slade. Slade fails, and George is never anything but reprehensible. It's far from Leach's fault; there's nothing any actor could do to remedy this authorial failure.
Then this author, this hack, has the gall to trot out poor Helen and hold her up as a model of proper femininity. Imagine Ibsen's A Doll's House, except it's a sex comedy and Nora dies without ever having appeared onstage.
If, after all this, you still want to see this play, you can September 11-14 at the Broken Arrow Community Playhouse, 1800 S. Main St. in BA. Visit bacptheatre.com or call 258-0077 for more information.
There's plenty to do around town for art lovers. If you fancy yourself an artist, you might send a proposal to Steve Liggett of the Living Arts of Tulsa. He's looking for proposals for installations, new media and music, video art, and outsider art. Call 585-1234 or visit livingarts.org for more.
Living Arts of Tulsa also has a few exhibits you can check out. Paintings by David Goodrich are on display in a series titled "Violence & Innocence." There's also a video/fiber installation by Rhode Island artist Jeanne Jo.
The Richardson Asian Art Museum has some examples of both new and classic Chinese painting available. Entry is fee; donations are accepted. Call 747-9393 for more.
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