Same Time Next Year, the epitome of excellence!

Photo of Ginny Wehrmeister and Joel Roster by Charles Jarrett

The Diablo Actor’s Ensemble Theatre (DAE) in Walnut Creek has once again produced another sparkling gem of theatrical entertainment with their production of Bernard Slade’s fanciful and enduring tale of extended love, friendship and commitment in “Same Time Next Year” playing now through May 23rd. Director Scott Fryer has brought back the fantastic acting team of Joel Roster and Ginny Wehrmeister to bring to this popular and much produced love story the epitome of excellence.

In the movie, “South Pacific”, the French plantation owner, Emile, reminisces about a chance encounter that would forever change his life as he sings these memorable words, “Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger, you may see a stranger across a crowded room, and somehow you know, you know even then, that somewhere you’ll see her, again and again - - -“

And so it is with New Jersey accountant George, who is in California on a business trip and a northern California housewife, Doris, who is supposed to be attending a Catholic retreat, and they both just happen to end up in this same coastal inn. Their eyes chance to connect across an almost empty dining room in this quiet, not overly crowded Mendocino retreat. They look away, they look back, they smile, they look away again and a non-spoken encounter innocently begins, then like a magnet, the fortuitous moment draws their eyes back to each other. George somewhat sheepishly acknowledges their encounter by saluting the lady across the room by raising his dinner fork, brandishing a slightly red, obviously rare piece of steak, in a rather silly gesture. She laughs and a special encounter to end all encounters, begins.

Karen and I have seen this play several times, how many times I just cannot remember, but each time I anticipate the fond warm memories that this delightful story brings back to me. The story resonates of a remarkable, albeit highly unlikely romance between two ordinary people, happily married to others, who strike up a conversation and before the evening is over end up spending the night in a wild, passionate sexual encounter.

I also remember the 1978 movie adaption of the play, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn (who won the Tony Award for Best Actors), and remember two sterling actors who deliver a play well written in such a fashion that it will probably never escape me. This weekend, I experienced another sterling moment, another brilliant theatrical experience, one that I am sure will rank up there with the Alda and Burstyn performance, with what Karen and I both agree is unequivocally the best play performance of this remarkable work that we have ever seen!

When the play opens, on the morning-after their encounter, we find George and Doris (Joel and Ginny) in a ruffled up bed, both pretending that they are half-awake, staring off into the room, trying to absorb silently what has just occurred in their lives. The bed creaks several times as George tries to exit the bed without waking Doris. He slowly and stealthily tip-toes across the room, gathers up his socks and stumbles a bit trying to slip them on. Again it is obvious that he is trying to escape without waking Doris. But Doris is awake, she too trying to decide if she dares to acknowledge her escaping paramour. Then, she decides she cannot let him slip away and she calls out to him. He stumbles while trying to step into his trousers and fumbles for words, getting his rambling racing uncoordinated thoughts all screwed up. This slow motion and awkwardly developing scene is an absolute jewel and it sets the tone for the remarkably well directed and totally believable story that follows.

The couple acknowledge that they know what they have done is wrong, they feel guilty, they are embarrassed as they talk about how much they love their families (each of them with three children apiece), they beat themselves up, and they feel more guilt as they begin to talk about what a special moment has occurred in their lives. Was it wrong? Yes it was. Do they want to meet again? Well, no, well yes, well maybe, well maybe not, well - - - yessssss!

They continue meeting, once a year, at the same inn, ostensibly for the same purpose, the annual business meeting and the annual religious retreat, continuing for 24 years. Over the course of that time-frame the relationship between them migrates from the initial clandestine affair to a sexual nirvana, to that of a deep emotional and personal intimacy, an extended loving, and caring relationship. They, in themselves, encounter, encourage and weather a plethora of changes in their own lives, personalities and personal growth. They encounter in real time and vicariously, marital problems, political change, death of loved ones, and even birth. They learn to love and respect and care for their periodic partner’s own families, almost as much as they love their own children, and all without ever actually meeting each other’s families.

Ginny and Joel are so incredibly real, so intensely believable, so professional in every aspect that these actors set themselves apart in their heart-warming delivery. Members of the audience cried and laughed and held their breath as each new chapter in the characters’ lives unfolded. This superbly written play is a masterpiece of human history, providing a memory tapestry that each of us is sure to relate to in some small way. At times, this superbly well written story is delightfully funny, at times it is extremely poignant, but at all times it is intensely real and believable. If you don’t fall in love with Joel Roster and Ginny Wehrmeister and their performances in this play, then I will be completely gob smacked! If I could exhibit four boxes of popcorn, or four little guys applauding or four bouquets of roses to underscore my approval rating, then this production would get four of everything to tell you absolutely, not to miss it!

“Same Time Next Year” plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m., through May 23rd. Tickets are a very reasonable $10 to $25 each and can be reserved by calling (866) 811- 4111 or by going on line to DAE’s intimate little theatre is located next to Peet’s Coffee at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek. There is plenty of parking across the street, on Locust in a huge public parking garage.