Los Angeles writer Laurie Newbound remembers well the sensational buzz that accompanied the Broadway premiere of her Canadian father Bernard Slade’s legendary hit comedy, Same Time, Next Year (which is currently playing to much enthusiastic applause until July 16 at the Classic Theatre Festival, 54 Beckwith Street East, Perth.)
Speaking by phone from L.A., Newbound, who in 1975 was a student at Sarah Lawrence, says “it was just electric. The response at that time was incredible,” as a four-block-long lineup outside the Brooks Atkinson Theatre the day after opening night signaled the start of a three-year run on Broadway. “When I saw the musical Hamilton, it reminded me of a small handful of plays I’ve attended, like my father’s play, where it really felt like an event, where the audience was really excited to be there.”
Newbound recalls her father wrote Same Time, Next Year very quickly following a weekend getaway that Slade enjoyed with his wife, Jill Foster (who was born Florence Hancock). He had been inspired by the beautiful, rustic surroundings of a cottage in Mendocino, California, and thought it was the perfect location for a romantic comedy which, in this case, is about two people (George and Doris) who gather there annually for a weekend despite being married to other people.
“Doris to me is such a remembrance of my mother,” Newbound says. “That character is so like my mother. I always loved it for that.”
Slade himself wrote that “There is a great deal of Jill in Doris, as there is in most of the women I write. During an intermission of a performance in Boston a woman archly asked Jill, ‘Which one are you, the mistress or the wife?’ Jill said, ‘I’m both.’”
Newbound says she has not seen the play in 15 years, but that she did take her kids to see it in New Haven, and it continues to enjoy cross-generational appeal. She grew up in Hollywood, attending school with the daughters of Gregory Peck and Lloyd Bridges, among other actors, and began a career in television working as a script assistant on the program Barney Miller.
She recalls Slade being unhappy during the last four or five years of writing for television, when he was cranking out scripts for everything from Bewitched (which featured Jill in the role of Darrin Stevens’ secretary, Betty) and The Flying Nun to The Partridge Family (the latter two were series he actually created as well). As many writers lamented at the time, there was only so much character and plot development that could be squeezed into 22 minutes, sandwiched among commercials for antacids and toilet tissue.
“I even remember as a kid asking why television isn’t better,” she laughs, noting that most viewers are now enjoying a golden age of TV shows with great variety and depth. “The Partridge Family was adorable,” she admits, noting that Susan Dey’s character, Laurie, was named for her, and Newbound’s first boyfriend Keith earned a certain notoriety as the namesake for the David Cassidy role.
“My dad had an unusual style when it came to writing,” Newbound recalls. “He wrote long-hand and he liked writing with people around. He would write around the pool or with the TV on. Our family life was going on and he would be writing on his yellow pad, he didn’t even have an office at home. It was never like, ‘Shhhh, your dad is writing.’”
While their family was part of a large Canadian diaspora that migrated to Hollywood in the 1960s, Newbound says her parents never had a strong sense of national identity. “He felt like his country was the theatre. The collegial atmosphere of being with other actors and directors and producers in that world, that is where he found his sense of family and belonging.”
Slade is now 87, and sadly lost his lifelong spouse Jill this past spring. Newbound currently writes a blog called the Panini Press (www.thepaninipress.net) that details what it is like to be squeezed between the concerns of aging parents and maturing children. “It’s such a common story but in a weird way it’s almost untold,” she says.
The Classic Theatre Festival production of Same Time, Next Year, which has generated much buzz among audiences and theatre reviewers, closes on Sunday, July 16, followed by the opening of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy Candida on July 21, and the mystery thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight on August 18. The theatrical historic walking plays Perth through the Ages and The Lonely Ghosts Walk continue to run 7 times weekly as well through the end of August.
For tickets call 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca