When the Classic Theatre Festival’s mainstage season opens June 23 with the legendary Bernard Slade comedy Same Time, Next Year (sponsored by CogecoTV), many audience members will recognize the performer playing George, a married man who gets together for an annual weekend with a married woman named Doris, played by Lana Sugarman.
The longest running Canadian comedy in Broadway history is the brainchild of a Canadian writer who, in addition to penning many a CBC show during the 1950s and 60s, also created the TV series The Flying Nun and The Partridge Family.
Clarkson says his character is “the same mass of walking contradictions that we all are. He describes his life as a mess, but he became an accountant because figures don’t lie, and he takes comfort in that.”
Clarkson notes that among George’s conflicted feelings is the fact that “he considers himself happily married, but falls in love with Doris and carries on a yearly tryst with her for decades. He feels terrible guilt, but doesn’t want to stop. He alternates between self-centred obliviousness and being aware enough to know when he’s made a mistake, and to apologize for it.”
The veteran Festival performer – now appearing in his 7th consecutive summer season – says “the scope of playing a person over the span of a quarter century is what makes it tricky. Each scene is set in a distinct era, five years apart, and George and Doris clearly reflect the changes of the society in which they live. Lana and I can’t play symbols though, and Slade walks the line between letting the characters suggest the times outside their never changing hotel room, and being the messy human beings in love that they are.”
Playing George recalls Clarkson’s first role at the Festival in the Jan de Hartog play The Fourposter, which similarly charts a marriage’s ups and downs over 40 years. “Though written a generation apart, I remember being so impressed with how The Fourposter felt fresh and true, and that’s also true of Same Time, Next Year.”
Being on stage the whole time is a challenge that Clarkson likens to running a marathon that, while testing his endurance, benefits from the fact that “there’s really no opportunity to let your guard down, to be distracted backstage as you wait for 15 minutes for your next scene. You get to live in the world you’ve help create, for the duration of the show.”
While the play and film of Same Time, Next Year (with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn) were hugely popular with baby boomers, Clarkson notes “the characters are actually older than boomers, so if anything, this is an opportunity for a boomer to get a glimpse of what life may have been like for their parents. But for all that, Slade doesn’t write Doris and George as bland 1950s stereotypes.
“Slade made his name as a TV writer in the 60s, but this play allowed him to go so much deeper than a sitcom would. It’s kind of the best of both worlds to me: there’s a rhythm to the writing that calls to mind all the great sitcoms I watched from the 60s and 70s (like Barney Miller) but the story has depth and we get to see these characters develop over more than the 22 minutes a sitcom would afford. The foibles of these characters, the mix of neuroses and heart, will probably feel familiar to anyone who’s seen a Neil Simon play or even Seinfeld.”
Same Time, Next Year runs until July 16, Tuesday to Sunday at 2 pm, with 8 pm shows Wed. & Sat. It’s followed by the Shaw comedy Candida and the Peter Colley thriller I’ll Be Back Before Midnight. All mainstage shows take place at 54 Beckwith Street East (at Harvey). Historic walking plays are also running 7 times a week, with Perth through the Ages’ Confederation-themed story Wed. to Sun at 11 am (meeting at the Perth Museum) and the Thursday and Friday evening Lonely Ghosts Walk (an 1867 meets Expo67 time travel comedic romp) begins at 7 pm.
For tickets to the 2017 summer season, call 1-877-283-1283 or visit ticketsplease.ca