Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre’s (MLRT) annual “Evening With The Stars” fundraisers have quickly become noted for bringing the stars to Mammoth. While it’s still rare for two television/film/stage stars of the calibre of Robert Picardo and Linda Purl to be willing to share their skill and expertise in as intimate a location as Mammoth Lakes, MLRT Artistic Director Shira Dubrovner knows how to stage a staged reading, and cast them with stars.
This year, the play is Bernard Slade’s romantic comedy “Same Time, Next Year,” which plays this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 18-19, at the Edison Theatre at 7 p.m. nightly. “Same Time” had a successful Broadway run, earning several awards, and was also made into a successful film.
In the story, New Jersey accountant George and Oakland housewife Doris enter into an extramarital, meeting once a year at the same inn. Over the course of the next 24 years, their ever-increasing intimacy leads to discussions about births, deaths and marital problems each is experiencing at home, while they adapt themselves to the social changes affecting their lives.
First produced in 1975, Ellen Burstyn, who won a Best Actress Tony for the stage version, reprised her role in a 1978 film adaptation alongside Alan Alda.
Linda Purl is recognizable from numerous TV appearances, most recently in recurring roles on HBO’s “True Blood,” Showtime’s “Homeland,” and NBC’s “The Office,” as well as on “Matlock” with Andy Griffith and as Fonzie’s fiancée on “Happy Days.”
Her Broadway credits include “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Purl is the founder of the California International Theatre Festival and has appeared in numerous theatrical productions including “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Love Letters” (with Stacy Keach), and “The Tempest.” As a film actress, she has appeared in Disney’s “Mighty Joe Young,” among others.
Fans will recognize Picardo from his work in television on “Star Trek Voyager” as the Emergency Medical Hologram, also known as The Doctor. He’s also noted for playing Coach Cutlip in “The Wonder Years,” and as Dr. Dick Richards on ABC’s landmark drama “China Beach,” as well as for co-starring in films such as “Gremlins.”
He attended Yale, landing a role in Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” and later enrolled at the Circle in the Square Professional Theater Workshop, along with fellow actor Kevin Bacon. In 1976 he appeared in the David Mamet play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” and with Diane Keaton in “The Primary English Class.” In 1977, Picardo made his Broadway debut in the leading role in the comedy hit “Gemini” with Danny Aiello.
Purl and Picardo’s association dates back almost 30 years, to a production of “Beyond Therapy” in 1984. “Linda has done a lot of stage work. I saw her as Blanche DuBois in ‘Streetcar’ at the Rubicon Theatre and to me that really cemented the kind of actor she is, one who loves the stage and appreciates the craft and technique,” Picardo noted. “Linda and I met in what was then called the LA Public Theatre. I loved working with her, and always wanted to do another show with her.”
Picardo, it turns out, has been friends with playwright Slade since late ‘70s, and starred in a 1978 Broadway production of the playwright’s show “Tribute” with no less than Jack Lemmon, a west coast run which brought him to Los Angeles, where he decided to try out film and TV. “I got to see a production of “Same Time” then,” he recalled.
Slade told him about an unproduced musical version of “Same Time,” and the two were cast as the leads. “Then the producer who liked it and us decided not produce it, and we never got to do it,” Picardo recalled. “We might throw in a song or two, though,” Purl quipped.
With no actual sets and only minimal props at most, how is doing a staged reading different when performing it before an audience? “It’s sort of like being shot out of a cannon,” Purl described. “You’re doing it, but with minimal rehearsal.”
“The advantage of ‘Same Time’ is that the set has the same layout. And some scenes have a fair amount of action,” Picardo added. “The famous ‘baby’s coming out whether we want it to or not’ scene is what seals them as occasional lovers but also as friends.”
Dubrovner said she views it as a glimpse of the rehearsal process. “You get to see them work the scenes … it’s kind of sneak peek, and the actors get to play around with it,” she said.
“And if we screw up horribly, we get to stop and go back,” Picardo lobbed in.
“All kidding aside, when I approached first Robert, then Linda about coming up here to present the play as a staged reading, they were thrilled to finally be able to be part of the project together—and also to help support theatre in Mammoth,” Dubrovner said.
“I’ve been there before in a staged reading with Donna Mills, and I helped draft Linda for this one … she’s one of my favorite actors,” Picardo enthused. “And I’d worked with Shira on a full production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Broken Glass.’ I’d love to come back here for a full on show, it’d be a blast to do a full production in Mammoth!”
“There’s something about the ambrosia of being in the full embrace of mother nature,” Purl added. “It makes for a great boost to the soul, and a great shot of mind candy for the audience. Anytime you have theatre and the arts and nature it’s a real treat.”
Tickets for “Same Time, Next Year” are $35-General, $55 with wine and hors d’oeuvres. Phone 760.934.6592 or visit www.edisontheatre.org. Sponsored by Paul & Kathleen Rudder and the Westin Monache Resort.