Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year was a hit when it opened on Broadway in 1975 where it played a total of 1,453 performances. The play was about two people, Doris and George, who first met at a Northern California resort in 1951. They began an affair that they carried on once a year for the next 24 years. Ellen Burstyn won a Tony Award and recreated her role in the 1978 film. Los Angeles saw Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke in the roles at the Huntington Hartford in 1977. That production was such a hit that when those stars had to leave for other commitments, they were replaced by Diahann Carroll and Clevon Little for an extended run. The play became a staple of community and dinner theatres around the country.
It’s surprising no one has even written a “gay” version of the play before Terry Ray’s Electricity opened this past weekend in Studio City. Unfortunately Ray’s writing veers into sitcom land, with jokes that pander to a mostly male audience for cheap laughs. The audience I was part of seemed to enjoy themselves but this writer kept wanting more. Ray’s couple aren’t philanderers who meet up once a year to ignite their “electricity.” They are two former classmates from Chillicothe, Ohio who meet up again at their 10th class reunion in 1983. Gary (the fairy as he was known in high school) claims to be a married man, back home from his straight life in Orange County. Brad is an alcoholic, sexaholic waiter from New York City. After warning Gary not to fall in love with him, Brad seduces him and then abandons him for 10 years. At their 20th class reunion, they find themselves in the same motel room. Gary has a lot of anger at Brad’s commitment issues but Brad finds he does possess a tender side when informed of Gary’s HIV status. At their 30th reunion, Gary is still alive and on a HIV cocktail that seems to be working for him and Brad is even willing to spend a whole week seeing if they can maintain a relationship. Brad’s job transfer to Berlin ends that for another ten years. Finally, at age 58 they both seem to be ready to spend the rest of their lives together.
The conflicts that arise all seem to be manufactured and unrealistic to be carried on for once a decade meetings. There is no real sense of time change as the clothes and furnishings remain neutral (except for a new comforter for the bed every decade). Instead, social relevance rears its head with discussions of AIDS, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Gay Marriage to show that passage of time. Steven Rosenbaum’s direction is pedestrian and generic making the four-scene 90 plus minutes pass slowly. The main problem with this production is in the casting of playwright Ray as Gary and Kevin Scott Allen as Brad. It’s very difficult to buy these mature men as 28 year olds in the first scene and still hard to accept them as 38 year olds. It’s a bit easier to take them at age 48 and they finally look more convincing at age 58 in the final scene. It’s much easier for younger actors to appear and act older than it is for older actors to appear younger. Perhaps their rapid aging can be attributed to the fumes from the omnipresent paper mill that gets its fair amount of blame and jokes in Ray’s script.
Two Roads Theater, 4348 Tujunga Ave. in Studio City. Ends May 22. www.brownpapertickets.com