To all but the most fastidious, I can warmly recommend Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year. A two-character play similar in theme to Avanti, and in quality to The Voice of the Turtle, it is genuinely funny, often moving, and slyly perspicacious throughout. If it does not rise into the domain of art, it at least never stoops to facile salaciousness, obvious vulgarity, or straining for laughs, like the current Schisgal, McNally, and Simon plays….
This is what the commercial theater ought to be based on: plays that are entertaining, undemanding, adroit, but also respectful of human truths…. (p. 65)
John Simon, in New York Magazine (copyright © 1975 by NYM Corporation; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), March 31, 1975.
[What sustains Same Time, Next Year] is not its sentimental base—though that is what makes it "cozy"—but its steady stream of funny lines. For example, the woman explains that her husband was in the service during the war for four years—three of them as a POW. A yak! Funnier still, the man mentions that his wife never travels by plane. "Is she afraid of flying?" the woman asks. "No, of crashing," he answers.
Since the action stretches from 1951 to 1975, we observe the alteration of manners and customs through the period. For instance: the man, still troubled by his conscience, has consulted a "shrink"; his talk is now peppered with Freudian jargon. More strikingly, when the woman arrives in 1961 she no longer wears the usual housewife's outfit but appears in blue jeans and an American Indian headband; she has also become a student at Berkeley. The first words out of her mouth on this occasion are "Shall we fuck?" Then again, and this is surely funny, in one of the intervals designating the passage of time, we hear—besides songs, news items, etc.—a Nixon radio broadcast in which he speaks of those loyal and upright public servants, Haldeman and Ehrlichman.
There is in that aspect of the play a further touch of political history. The woman has not only become four-letter-word forthright in speech but "radicalized." She is shocked to learn that her lover voted for Goldwater and scandalized when she hears him wish for Vietnam to be wiped off the earth. "Why?" she exclaims. Because, he tells her, his son was killed in the war there. She falls on his neck in tears. So there is more to the show than just gags: every possible string of popular appeal is plucked.
Does it make sense to take this comedy "seriously"? Perhaps it should simply be set down as sub-Simon frivolity. But at the end of the first act I could not forbear thinking: this is all false, foolish, foul—and undoubtedly a tremendous hit. (pp. 413-14)
Harold Clurman, in The Nation (copyright 1975 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), April 5, 1975.
A contemporary American comedy of manners, Same Time, Next Year … [is] concerned with that most difficult of dramatic values, affection…. [It] uses an improbable plot device on which to hang reflections of the world and of jumbled private emotions: in this case the illicit meeting, for one night in every year, of a married man and a married woman briefly escaping from their own spouses and daily trials. We look in on them in a motel cabin once every five years from 1951 to 1976, catching up with changing fashions in American society, sharing their unabated family frets. It is all very lightly done by Bernard Slade…. [The] point of it all—a point more easily appreciated and more highly valued by 'ordinary' theatregoers than by metropolitan sophisticates—is the way in which, through the exchange of news and family photographs, the momentary sharing of apprehensions—far more than through sex, fun though that remains—these two build a lasting bond. (pp. 43-4)
J. W. Lambert, in Drama, Winter, 1976.
Same Time Next Year is set in an hotel room in California at five-yearly intervals between 1951 and 1976. An adulterous couple meet there for an annual clandestine weekend while the audience eavesdrops and watches them work through the social history of America's last quarter century. Between them they toy with all the major fads and philosophies to have swept the western world in the period. (p. 37)
With such a format, characterisation is bound to give way to caricature and the plot becomes little more than a linking device for a series of sketches, but against all odds the play holds together. Bernard Slade manages to make his characters likeable. They may not be anything special, indeed a more colourless couple could scarcely be imagined. They're naïve, conventional and not very bright, but their helpless normality makes them touching. They love their children and show each other photographs, neither of them really wants a divorce, they fumble nervously, dressing under the bedclothes at their first encounter, and each year they feel a bit shy at first. They tell each other stories about their respective spouses which reveal comfortable family lives in the background beside which their annual transgressions are of no real significance. Here are no Anna and Vronsky, just two decent people having a bit of a break from the kids. (p. 38)
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, in Plays and Players (© copyright Lucy Hughes-Hallett 1976; reprinted with permission), December, 1976.