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'Same Time' after all these years

Bernard Slade, who wrote the 1975 play "Same Time Next Year," is the guy who created TV's "The Flying Nun" and "The Partridge Family." And you could almost see the much-revived play as a sitcom.

The pitch would go like this: It's an extra-marital affair, see, but the twist is the people only meet once a year, and we drop in on them every four or five years, and we see the social changes of the 1950s, '60s and '70s through the changes in their lives.

Not bad. Which is why the old chestnut seems to be always playing somewhere (betcha there are at least five productions right now). And as the Randall Theatre's production, which opened Friday night in Medford, demonstrates, It's an enjoyable two hours of theater, even it's getting a bit long in the tooth.

George (Don Matthews) and Doris (Judith Rosen) wake up in bed in a cozy room at an inn near Mendocino, Calif., after a tryst both obviously found enjoyable. He's an accountant from New Jersey, she's a housewife from Oakland, Calif., and neither is the cheating type.

Except now they are. But Slade inoculates the characters against our judgment by having them show their surprise and guilt. Doris: "How come you're so guilty?" George: "Don't you feel guilty?" Doris: "Are you kidding? Half my high school class became nuns."

And so on. These are genuinely appealing people: kind, considerate, thoughtful and earnest. Taxpayers. Good parents (each has three kids). But with a hint of that devil-may-care quality that romantic comedy calls for.

Early on the characters are played broadly under Bob Herried's direction. Matthews' 1951 George is so squeamish and guilt-ridden as to almost come off a wimp. We know he'll change. Rosen's 1951 Doris is a stay-at-home housewife who didn't finish high school because she got pregnant and married the big lug. We know she will change.

George and Doris have an annual rendezvous, always in the same room at the comfy inn: a bed, a sofa, a piano George sometimes plays. Projections between the scenes use the old device of flipping calendar pages to show the passing of the years and add cultural references of the times.

For 1956 there's "The Mickey Mouse Club," Rosa Parks, Doris Day, a glowering Richard Nixon. With 1961 we get JFK, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a young Bob Dylan. The pace of change has accelerated by 1965, with The Beatles, LBJ and the escalation of a little undeclared war in a place called Vietnam.

George and Doris change, too. He becomes an angry right-winger. She finishes high school, gets pregnant again, leading to a big scene that's played to a T by Matthews and Rosen (who are husband and wife in real life).

"Same Time Next Year" takes its time getting on with it. Other than the opening scene, most of the best moments come after the intermission.

Time's arrow does funny things to stories. When the play was new, there was a whiff of naughtiness in the sympathetic adulterers who go undiscovered and unpunished. And the momentous changes of the '60s and '70s were fresh and opening to a future of unlimited promise. The war had ended, the women's movement was gathering steam, and working and middle-class families had seen their share of the American pie grow since the end of World War II.

That there's been an ongoing reaction to those heady days, and the '70s became the "me decade," and marriage isn't what it once was, lends a nostalgic, almost sentimental air to "Same Time Next Year." Once thought a wee bit edgy, it's now a comfortable thing, like an old sweater.

Doris goes to college, has her consciousness raised, demonstrates against the war. George struggles with change, resists it, and comes back next time with a mustache and peace sign necklace emitting the vibes and the psychobabble of the trendiest therapies. Meanwhile, Doris has gone the other way and started a business, which it turns out she's good at. And on it goes.

"Same Time Next Year" is a pleasant play made for middle-age-and-up audiences, done nicely by Herried and company. It won't change how you see things, but it may make you feel a little more accepting of what you've become. It's generous to its characters and their foibles, and it's filled with enough funny lines and tender moments to keep contemporary audiences engaged.

Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.

Husband and wife Judith Rosen and Don Matthews play Doris and George in Randall Theatre's production of 'Same Time Next Year.' Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell