Neil Simon may be more prolific, and certainly much wealthier, but for crisp, thoughtful prose that sticks to the ribs as well as the funnybone, you really can't beat Bernard Slade.
A successful television writer ("The Flying Nun," "The Partridge Family"), Slade broke into theater back in 1975 with what remains his biggest hit, "Same Time, Next Year," about a man and a woman — both married with children — who meet once a year to consummate a three-decade affair.
He since has created "Tribute," "Return Engagements," "Romantic Comedy" and several others, all requiring audiences to think and feel while they're cracking up.
Long absent from local stages, "Same Time" is being joyfully revived by the Westminster Community Theatre in a production that succeeds even with some mixed emphasis on occasion. Director Karla Abrams Franklin skillfully adjusts the play's moods to fit whatever time period is being recreated.
It's a demanding load for its two-character cast, and the talents of Tara Golson and Scott T. Finn are tested repeatedly in this six-episode chronicle. Slade has set his players at various stages of opposition to one another in each meeting (separated by five-year periods) from 1951 to 1975.
Golson, the more animated of the pair, repeatedly nails her character choices, from a rather dim bulb in the opening segment to a successful businesswoman late in the play. She's at her best when arriving eight and a half months pregnant and proceeding to begin the birthing process right then and there.
Golson hits the mark as a hippie protester opposite Finn's staunch conservative during the Vietnam War era in the play's most dynamic sequence. We next glimpse her as the chief executive officer of a catering company and, finally, retired and quite well off — all crisply acted characterizations aimed both at the head and the heart.
Finn elects to underplay most of his scenes, delivering his lines believably but without the emphasis his partner projects. One notable exception is the Vietnam-era segment, during which his own personal trauma erupts in what becomes the production's finest moment.
He's also quite effective in a later scene, when he finds himself uncomfortably chatting with her husband on the phone and turning it into a positive situation — his final line is priceless. A bit more enthusiasm in the earlier sequences would enhance his character considerably.
The Westminster production contains one element not usually found in other stagings of the play — the inn's operator dropping in to clean up and set the stage for the next scene, while collecting her share of laughs in the process. Stage manager Kip Hogan, an accomplished comic actress, keeps the audience chuckling during the actors' physical transitions backstage.
Slade, I must admit, has long been one of my favorite playwrights. During my years in local theater, I enjoyed some memorable personal experiences with his "Tribute," "An Act of the Imagination," "Return Engagements" and, yes, "Same Time, Next Year."
It's good to see Slade represented once more, particularly in such good company at the Westminster Community Theatre.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.
If You Go
What: "Same Time, Next Year"
Where: Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster
When: Closing performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (714) 893-8626 or http://www.wctstage.org