Same Time, Next Year tells the story of a man, a woman, and the 25-year-long relationship they build while married to other people. The play, which was nominated for a number of Tony awards in 1975 and which writer Bernard Slade later adapted to film, tells of love, loss and self-discovery. And it’s funny.
“You don’t think of an affair at all in a positive way, but the play is written so brilliantly, you’re rooting for them,” said Mari Keegan, who stars in M & M’s (Murder and Mayhem’s) production of the two-person play as Doris. The show premieres at the Amato Center (56 Mont Vernon Road, Milford) on Friday, Sept. 7, at 8 p.m.
The story begins in 1951, when the affair happens and the two are in their mid-20s. They decide to meet at the same time in the same place each year. The audience gets snapshots of these meetings, from 1951 through 1975, and they see the duo grow and change, through Vietnam, through the civil rights movement. But meshed in with the serious moments are silly ones — crazy costumes, exuberant personalities, and even a labor scene.
It’s an incredible challenge, Keegan said, to play a character who develops over the course of 25 years, but Doris is also a dream role for an actor. That’s partly because the character is so relatable. Doris is a high school dropout and is married when she meets George. A mother of three, she goes through periods of self-discovery during the 25 years we see. She obtains an education and moves on to become a hard-nosed businesswoman. Audiences will see her grow up. “I think that every woman in the audience will relate to Doris. I’ve gone through those changes myself, and I think that we’ve all gone through times of trying to gain our own self-esteem. Those situations of self-discovery, of loss, all happen throughout the play,” Keegan said.
George is also a complex character, torn between who he wants to be and who he is, said Larry Pizza, the actor who plays him. Despite his love for his wife, her fantastic qualities remind him of his inadequacies.
Playing George is fun and challenging, too, Pizza said. “There’s so much meat in this — in this production, you have two people on stage for two hours. You’re trying to entertain and send a message, but you’re also trying to keep the audience interested,” Pizza said. He’s spent some time reading the play’s sequel (Same Time, Another Year) to better his understanding of George. “If you don’t [research], you get a very superficial farce — it won’t touch anybody. If you don’t delve into the message, if you’re not clear with what you’re trying to say,” Pizza said.
There are two major things that are imperative to make this show work, said director Mark Ferman. One: You have to have to have two actors who are able to play these characters that grow emotionally throughout 25 years. As a corollary to this, you also have to illustrate the passing of time, Ferman said — through costumes, sets, wigs and makeup, even music.
And two: You have to have actors with superb chemistry. Honesty and trust are significant in this production, Keegan said, which is no problem for these actors, who are already good friends offstage. Keegan’s son goes to the same school where Pizza’s wife is a paraprofessional. They’ve worked together before, too. Having a good off-stage relationship certainly helps when developing a strong on-stage performance, Pizza said. “We have a great communication system,” he said.
“I’ve worked with Larry in Dinner with Friends in 2008, and I’ve been wanting to work with him again since then — we just hit it off,” Keegan said.
“This play is beautiful, and it’s real. They laugh a lot, cry a little ... it’s so human, so real, but it’s so funny, and one of the most-produced plays in history,” Keegan said. “So much is going on in our lives right now ... but this is an escape. If we’ve done our job, everyone will go home, feeling like they just spent the night with friends,” Keegan said.