Same Writer, Same Characters, but Next Up, New Adventures

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As any theater trivia buff worth his two-on-the-aisle can probably tell you, Bernard Slade's 1975 comedy "Same Time, Next Year" is among the most produced two-character plays of its time--a certifiable cash cow on stages both large and small, from Boston to Budapest.

So it should come as little surprise that the playwright would pen a sequel to the saga of George and Doris, those likable adulterers who meet at the guest cottage of a Northern California country inn for an annual weekend tryst over a period of 24 years.

The only question may be why the veteran writer waited so long to bring forth "Same Time, Another Year," which premieres under Slade's direction at the Pasadena Playhouse on Sunday.

It wasn't as though the idea hadn't been put to him. "Some years ago, Ellen Burstyn, who did the original, called me and suggested this," says the affable Slade, with traces of his native Canada still evident in his voice, during a noontime conversation in the theater's basement green room.

"I really didn't want to do it at that point," he continues. "I thought I'd explored those characters."

About two years ago, though, he warmed to the prospect of using George and Doris to explore his own concerns about aging. "As they got older, they have evolved and changed," says Slade, who is 65 and has been married for 42 years.

"I tend to write characters who are my age," he continues. "I'd gone through the usual phases that people go through [as they get older], and I thought I would like to find out how I felt about that."

Certainly one thing Slade feels good about is how well "Same Time, Next Year" has done over the years. The play has earned him approximately $15 million to date, according to the playwright.

What's the secret of such success? "The idea of having this sort of affair where there are no outside encumbrances seems to tap into people's fantasies," Slade says.

Even the playwright himself recalls being shocked at "Same Time, Next Year's" initial popularity, when it opened on Broadway in 1975, where it wound up running for four years. "It was astounding," he says. "It was a massive hit. I thought if we were lucky it would play a couple of months on Broadway and do very well in stock."

He also found out that his comedy was more realistic than he'd imagined. "I felt I was writing a fantasy," Slade says. "Then I started to get letters from people that had had this sort of relationship."

What's more, the scenario traveled well. "The curious thing is how successful it was in other countries," Slade says. "I saw the French production, the Spanish production. In France--where how excited could they get about an extramarital affair?--the only thing they didn't quite understand were the psychiatric references."

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Born in 1930 in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, and raised until his teens in England, Slade began his career as an actor in Toronto. In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Jill, and two young children, Laurie and Christopher.

Pretty soon, he tried his hand at writing and found himself, as he recalls, sitting around the pool at the Chateau Marmont, penning episodes of such classics-to-be as "Bewitched."

He went on to work extensively in television, creating seven series, including "The Flying Nun" and "The Partridge Family." Yet Slade has also had a prolific career as a dramatist.

In addition to "Same Time, Next Year," Slade has written more than a dozen other plays, including "Tribute," which ran on Broadway in 1978, and "A Romantic Comedy," which played Broadway in 1979.

Set in the same cozy cottage as "Same Time, Next Year," "Same Time, Another Year" stars Tom Troupe and Nancy Dussault and picks up where the original left off, with an older, if not wiser, George and Doris.

Although Slade doesn't usually direct, he chose to guide the premiere of this work. "Any writer who has had theatrical experience with his own material, especially with comedy, is probably the best person to direct it," he says. "You see, I don't think directing is that mystical."

But he wouldn't want to stage the original. "It finally got so that it's very hard for me to watch," says Slade of "Same Time, Next Year."

"It's like visiting an old girlfriend that you still feel affectionate for, but you have no real passion about anymore."

* "Same Time, Another Year," Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino, Pasadena. Tuesday-Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 5 and 9 p.m.; Sunday, 2 and 7 p.m. (except Jan. 14, 5 p.m. only). $13.50-$35.50. (800) 233-3123 (Telecharge). Ends Feb. 18.

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