Great Timing

“Bad timing” is one of those bullshit excuses that the less enthusiastic half of a potential couple offers when trying to explain why this thing that is happening won't be happening any longer. It's bullshit because “bad timing” is what happens when you leave a burrito in the microwave two minutes too long or you ram a busload full of nuns in front of a cop and a television-news crew. When it comes to matters of passion, the only timing that should matter is the rhythm of the human heart; everything else is cheap rationalization for a fear of the unknown.

Take George and Doris, the couple at the center of Bernard Slade's Same Time Next Year. They're married, but not to each other. Each has three children. They're decent, honorable people who, while on separate vacations one weekend in 1951, discover a shared enthusiasm for each other's body, mind and spirit. It's terrible timing. But what begins as a weekend interlude blooms into the most permanent thing in either person's life. For the next 24 years, they meet at the same country inn on the same weekend for one night of no strings, no ties, no attachments and no responsibilities except to each other.

They're adulterers. They are violating marriage vows. They are betraying sacred oaths. But the charm of Slade's comedy is that George and Doris are so likable and so committed to each other that this series of one-night stands survives wars, pregnancies, deaths, Barry Goldwater, women's lib, and all the guilt and anger their illicit union causes. And by the time the play ends and these two by-now middle-aged people look back on the path of their lives together, they do so without regret.

In other words, this play is an idyllic fantasy, every bit as far-fetched and laughably implausible as one of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. But it's still a charming little play, well-constructed and with just enough bite and social relevance to lift it above Neil Simon territory.

The most important thing in any production of this two-character play is the chemistry and likability of the actors playing George and Doris. Fortunately, this Grove Theater Center production at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center is graced by two very skilled actors (David Allen Jones and Vickers Wilson) who connect on all levels needed to make this an enjoyable ride. Kevin Cochran's direction feels smooth and effortless, and by the time the 100-minute play is over, you're genuinely sorry to see the couple leave the stage. Perhaps the burning desire you'll feel to embark on a clandestine tryst in hopes of finding your own secret life partner will make leaving simpler.

SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR at the Grove Theater Center at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, (714) 741-9555. Thurs.-Sat., July 13-15, 8:15 p.m. $20.50-$24.50.

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