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"Same Time, Next Year" reconvenes at OLT

An annual affair

Rebecca Lee McCarthy and Jeff Hirschberg demonstrate a real chemistry together at Olympia Little Theater. Press photo

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Two-handers are tough. A two-hander, in theater parlance, is a full-length show with only two characters. I performed one a while back, Oleanna by David Mamet, and I can tell you it nearly broke my brain. There's nowhere to hide. You're on stage the whole time, and you have to be able to rely on the skills and receptivity of your partner. I suppose in that way it's a bit like a romantic, dare I say sexual, affair.

I almost directed Bernard Slade's challenging two-hander Same Time, Next Year two decades ago-geez, how time flies - but I rejected the idea because I didn't feel its content would be accepted by my churchy college town. Its characters, George and Doris, are doing a not-at-all-wonderful thing. When they first meet, in 1951 at a surfside cottage in California, they're married to other people but fall into what they believe will be a torrid one-night stand. Despite understandable feelings of guilt, they decide to meet again one year later. This develops into an annual affair, and we check in with the adulterous couple every half-decade or so until 1975, the year the play debuted on Broadway. The characters age from their mid-20s at rise to pushing 50 in Scene VI.

Olympia Little Theater's production stars Jeff Hirschberg and Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Director James Patrick cast mature actors and let the script catch up with them. This presents Hirschberg and McCarthy with the challenge of acting 25 while looking, well, not 25, and they approach this largely by playing speed and insecurity. They seem more comfortable in Act II, which finds them with teenage children and passionless marriages in the chaotic '60s and '70s. They're aided by Allison Gerst's colorful costumes, which serve to emphasize the characters' personalities as they evolve over time.

It's a demanding script that gives these actors a full workout. I saw levels from Hirschberg I'd never seen, and I quite enjoyed his portrayal of George post-analysis. I'm pretty sure I've never seen McCarthy before, but I was taken with her work as Doris, especially in a scene (at the end of Act I) that tries our willing suspension of disbelief. The set is on point but, as so often happens at OLT, slightly punishes viewers on the extreme sides. Julia VanDerslice has done yeoman's work making sense of the company's new lighting system. Interstitial videos add context-but come on, Jim! Star Wars premiered in '77! You can't fool a lifetime Star Wars fan, though the sight of R2-D2 did get a "Yay!" from someone in Saturday's audience.

Time does fly, doesn't it? Same Time, Next Year is a mature, surprisingly funny play that elicits thoughts about where we were 20 years ago, how we've changed since, and how complex marriages-and friendships - can be.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR, 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through June 23, Olympia Little Theater, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia, $10-$14, 360.786.9484

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