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Melissa and Manny Fernandes, real life husband and wife, perform with the fluidity and timing of a matched set. In some of the play's more comic moments, they recall Desi and Lucy. In others, George and Martha.

Bernard Slade's comedy-drama opened in 1975. It's tempting to speculate how many people, married or otherwise, took its idea to heart.

Every year on the same weekend, George does accounting for a friend. On the same weekend, every year Doris goes on a religious retreat. Both are married. They meet in 1951, engage in vigorous dalliance, and decide to return every year from then on, same time, same Sea Shadows Inn on the Mendocino coast.

One wonders how many inns and motels in the area - or in Monterey, or Coronado - have had annual assignations. And how does a serial couple sustain such a delicate seesaw without tipping it either toward more or to get the hell out?

For Slade, it's no problem. Same Time offers glib, sitcom answers. He'd much rather show how opposites continually attract (in all six scenes, George and Doris rarely see eye to eye), and how the times they were a-changin from 1951 to 1975.

Except for its intriguing idea, the play's a one-and-donner. A return visit exposes its tricks (how they are always poles apart; how they rarely make love, or have it interrupted; how each becomes a generic representative of the times).

The Fernandes, however, are a delight. Manny takes George through various stages, from kinetic neurotic to buttoned-down reactionary to mellow psycho-babbler to a fairly well-adjusted adult.

Melissa must move Doris from the basement to the penthouse, from functionally literate to educated, having-almost-it-all super-success. Somehow, and this is no mean feat, she makes the changes seem not only logical but inevitable.

To watch them work is a joy, especially since their "work" is invisible.

The set, by Tim Wallace, never ages in 24 years - by design? It is the one constant in a changing world? Kelly Iverson's costumes announce the period - the year, even - as soon as the actors start a new scene (enter George in desert boots; Doris as an ur-Hippie). Chris Renda knows how to dim the lights just enough, without proclaiming important moments.

Justin Lang's sound design recalls spinning a radio dial, a song or familiar speech per year as they pass. The play's almost as narrow, but the performances give it life.


New Village Arts, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, playing through October 7.

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