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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Earthy ‘Same Time, Next Year’ brews on in Tisch Mills

Critic At Large

The Forst Inn Arts Collective

Ian Wisneski and Carrie Todd Counihan in a scene from “Same Time, Next Year” at The Forst Inn. (Warren Gerds)

TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Plays are referred to in the present tense. That is because they are living things.

Take Bernard Slade’s “Same Time, Next Year.”

The comedy-drama arrived in 1975.

What in 1975 can be alive and pertinent today?

Adultery. The play is about adultery. That will never go away.

Feelings about politics. Ditto.

Couples, family, changes with time. Ditto, ditto, ditto.

Storytelling.

Sex.

Acting challenge. This play comes off the shelf for that reason, too. It’s two people in six years – each five years from the last – and characterizations become voyages of personalities over time. Beginners need not apply.

Carrie Todd Counihan and Ian Wisneski – guided smartly by director Michael Sheeks – are up to the challenges.

They started performances Saturday night in a presentation of The Forst Inn Arts Collective that was billed as a preview. Preview = Not quite ready, leaving the option for tightening a few nuts and bolts, polishing here and there. Mostly, the show is more than good to go for the six-performance run that starts April 23. Audience size is limited for COVID-19 pandemic reasons.

The premise of the play: A man and a woman dining by themselves in a restaurant connect over the tables. Immediately afterward, spontaneous combustion happens in a hotel room. George and Doris decide to keep their good thing going – same time, next year, same place – despite being married with three children apiece.

Whoa.

This could only happen in a play, for all the possibilities for theatricality. (This also happened in the movies. This popular play on Broadway and in theaters across the land became a movie, too).

Saturday’s audience was interesting: No applause between the six scenes. That could be for a whole lot of reasons. One I-could-be-wrong guess is this: Being in the same room with adultery and sex (or at least talk thereof) kind of makes the hands anvils. There was laughter along the way – a lot is funny – but the applause was saved for the end, where it was strong.

The Ian Wisneski-Carrie Todd Counihan performance is not a tennis match – bouncing lines back and forth. It is a shared thing. The journeys of the characters are journeys in developed acting, too. Very much is well-played and thoughtful. And daring – the basic theme, and 2½ hours of it.

The story starts in 1951 and progresses to 1956, 1961, 1965, 1970 and 1975. A popular song from those years is heard between scenes. For instance, Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” “I’ll Be There” with a young (11 or 12) Michael Jackson and Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’.”

The players’ clothing styles change with time, too – particularly Doris. Her big swing takes her from free-form hippie to well-appointed businesswoman.

George and Doris go through massive changes. Along the way, George, an accountant, finds his “inner self.” Doris goes from high-school dropout who was pregnant at 18 to latter-day college graduate and successful business owner.

A key line from Doris about her youth: “I never had time to think about what I think.”

The most forceful scene comes at the time of the Vietnam War, 1965. The characters erupt in polar opposite feelings about politics and violence in the streets and attitudes – stuff in the air today. Thus, the play is a living thing.

Indeed, I have seen and written about this play at various times in the past. This collection of thoughts from one time last century: On the surface, the Bernard Slade comedy would seem to have little moral fiber… While decidedly an adult play, it is more about two people changing and growing than anything salacious… (The players) are on stage with little letup… Sex is a player in (George and Doris’) relationship. But it is not depicted, and the situations turn on themes of marriage, love, stages of life, pregnancy, fads, death and internal struggles… Slade’s script touches the funnybone with such lines as this from George assessing his feelings: “I think there’s a lot to be said for guilt and shame.”

***

Creative: Playwright – Bernard Slade; director – Michael Sheeks; scenic design and properties – Nannette Macy; costumes – Claran LaViolette; tech crew – Dan Sallinen

Cast:

Doris – Carrie Todd Couinihan

George – Ian Wisneski

Running time: 2½ hours

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. April 23, 24, 29, 30 and May 1 and 2 p.m. May 2

Info: forstinn.org

***

THE VENUE: The Forst Inn stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. Because of the current presence of COVID-19, house size is limited to about 30 patrons. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit.

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