I have gushed in past reviews over the quaint historic BDES Hall where the Benicia Old Town Theatre Group has been suspending the disbelief of Solano County residents for 50 years now in over 100 productions.
I love the painted signs showing the current show out front, the slightly musty, yet not unpleasant smell, when you walk up the carpeted stairs and the feeling of walking into the past a bit when you enter the theater itself.
Of course, all that doesn’t matter if what is presented doesn’t move you in some way. Thankfully, their current production, “Same Time, Next Year,” connects on many levels. It elicited belly laughs and then moved north to the heart with poignant moments as well.
“Same Time, Next Year” was written by Bernard Slade and is about a man and woman who are married to other people who have an extramarital affair that they then make into an annual event for over two decades.
It opened on March 14, 1975 and starred Ellen Burstyn as Doris and Charles Grodin as George. Burstyn won both the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. She also recreated the role in the 1978 film version alongside Alan Alda as George.
Since the show features just two actors tasked with carrying the entire production, they have to bring the goods, which they did in a way that seemed effortless in Benicia. The fact that it appeared effortless usually means that considerable effort was involved in creating that illusion and some of the credit for that has to go to director Hester Schell.
Benicia Old Town Theatre Group’s production starred Alan Coyne as George and Rebecca Grayce as Doris. Within moments of the stage lights being raised it was obvious that both of them were talented actors in their own right, but more importantly had the kind of warm chemistry that the show demands.
I was most impressed by their timing, delivery and how they hammered the punchlines. There were a few times that their lines seemed a bit rushed, but, to me, the barometer of the effectiveness of a play that is primarily comic is the audience’s reaction. That instant payoff from theatergoers erupting into uncontrollable laughter after a setup and punchline can’t be faked. We ate it up.
The changes that the characters and the larger society went through over the years were reflected in clothing styles (costume designer Dyanne Vojoda) and subtle changes in the set that mirrored technological advances.
Coyne was at turns neurotic, frantic, then self-assured and Grayce took her character through a metamorphosis in the show from housewife to activist to businesswoman.
The hotel set (designer Brian Hough) was well done with great attention to detail. A nice touch was having crew members adding and/or removing props in-between scenes dressed as hotel staff. The music chosen to move the years along was apropos and set the stage nicely.
It is rather ironic that a play about the power of love, the meaning of friendship and yes, the value of family life, is centered around two people committing adultery year after year. The power of the piece is in its script and how it weaves humor and heart together to reveal truths about relationships through the vehicle of a very unusual one.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at email@example.com
“Same Time, Next Year”
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 2-3, May 9-10
2 p.m. Sunday and May 4
BDES Hall, 140 W. J St., Benicia
3 and a half stars out of 4