By Dale King
Delray Beach Playhouse is wrapping up its 75th anniversary season with a gem of a show, a production so nicely packaged and executed that it may remain on the minds of audience members until autumn brings a new roster of main stage performances.
The showhouse on the east shore of Lake Ida is currently presenting Bernard Slade’s romantic comedy, Same Time, Next Year, which runs through Sunday. Canadian writer Slade, who died at 89 in 2019, created the sitcoms The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family as well as the plays Tribute and Romantic Comedy. He also drafted their film adaptations.
A two-person presentation that crams six scenes into two acts that cover 25 years in about two hours, Same Time, Next Year succeeds for assorted reasons. It has a talented, stage-savvy cast, a director who knows his stuff, a solid backstage crew and a pleasantly designed set that’s large enough but doesn’t overpower the action.
Delivering lives with finesse, excellent dispatch and a wide range of emotions are long-time DBP player Kari Budyk as Doris (a housewife from Oakland) and Noah Levine, a seasoned actor with a lengthy résumé, portraying George, a New Jersey accountant.
The play tells of two unremarkable married folks with six children between them who meet in 1951 at a hotel in Northern California with every intention of having an affair. After spending an apparently satisfying night in bed, they awake to find that talking is the preferable way to relate and they begin to form a profound attachment to each other.
Since neither wants to jeopardize their marriages, they agree to meet only once a year, a contract they dutifully — and joyfully — fulfill at the same California hotel, in the same room, for the next 25 years.
George and Doris’ once-a-year gigs have built-in difficulties, and Slade’s method of presenting the story in specifically designed vignettes — some comic, some tragic, some pleasant and others uncomfortable — underscores these occasional troubles.
During one rendezvous, Doris arrives pregnant. In a later get-together, she has adopted the demeanor of a hippie while attending Berkeley, jumping into George’s arms and demanding immediate sex — though she delivers her plea in a much cruder way.
As the pair matures, their politics and social beliefs begin to bubble up and separate. Doris remains fairly open and liberal — a holdover from the 1960s, perhaps, while George takes a decidedly right turn. (“You voted for Goldwater?” Doris gasps at one point).
As time passes, though, they develop an emotional intimacy that transcends the physical aspects of their liaisons and the somewhat divisive nature of their politics.
This unusual play uses Doris and George’s yearly tryst not so much as a source of humor or judgment, but as a kind of ongoing therapy that enriches both parties and helps them weather some of the most turbulent times of their married lives.
Whether or not it’s because of the clandestine get-togethers that spread across a quarter-century, Doris and George both find personal success and emotional stability in their later years. Just what happens after their 25th-year meeting is not quite certain, but it appears the annual ritual may continue.
While the show occasionally dips into ancient history with references to Motorola televisions, Walter Cronkite, the Gillette Friday Night Fights and Doris’s ’49 Kaiser, the show’s story transcends the occasional outdated references. At one point, George — whose level of anxiety remains high throughout their attachment — actually offers a comment that’s still true today: “The Russians have the bomb.”
Aptly directed by veteran DBP artistic director Randolph DelLago, Same Time, Next Year brings delightful actress Kari Budyk to the stage where she first performed in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in 2003. She seems exceedingly comfortable as Doris, quite capable of adapting her to changing times and changing demands. She can be very funny or sad at a moment’s notice, as Budyk has proven many times in the past, from The Odd Couple to Other People’s Money.
Last seen at Delray Playhouse in 2018’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Levine initially portrays George as a bundle of anxiety — as if someone is stepping hard on his internal gas pedal.
He beautifully displays George’s ragged vulnerability in one particular scene when he has to take a phone call from his young daughter while in the hotel room with Doris. The little girl has lost a tooth and is worried that the Tooth Fairy won’t find it. When George tells her, “I love you,” tears could easily flow from the audience’s eyes.
The performer, whose regional credits include Actor’s Playhouse, Island City Stage, Slow Burn Theatre, Theatre Lab and Thinking Cap, sufficiently vivifies George’s character and courage by play’s end to deal with personal tragedies and still manage to find meaning in life.
Same Time, Next Year runs through Sunday at the Delray Beach Playhouse, 950 NW 9th St. in Delray Beach. Tickets and can be purchased online at delraybeachplayhouse.com, or by phone at 561-272-1281.