‘On Golden Pond’ to open Guild’s 2011 – 2012 Season

Photo by Debbie Pletzer

Dearborn actors Nancy Wolter (left) as Ethel, Omar Alami as Billy Ray Jr. and Lindel Salo as Norman rehearse a scene from “On Golden Pond” at the Players Guild of Dearborn.

By Sue Suchyta
The Players Guild of Dearborn will open its 2011-12 season with Earnest Thompson’s stage play “On Golden Pond.”

The show will run for three weekends, Sept. 16 to 18, 23 to 25, and Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees.

Alan Ellias of Farmington Hills is directing the show, which Jeff Bartos of Dearborn and Michael Bollman of Redford are producing.

The cast includes Dearborn actors Lindel Salow as Norman Thayer Jr., Nancy Wolter as Ethel Thayer, Pat Denyer as Charlie Martin and Omar Alami as Billy Ray Jr. Debbie Pletzer of Canton plays Chelsea Thayer Wayne, and Ross Grossman of Farmington Hills plays Bill Ray.

Ellias contacted Thompson — who wrote both the stage play and Academy award-winning screenplay — by email, and was pleased to receive his valuable insight.

“One of the things about ‘On Golden Pond’ is everybody remembers the movie,” Ellias said. “And while I really loved the movie and wanted to direct (the play) … I was very concerned because the play, although it has the meat of the movie in it, it’s a play – it’s a little different.”

Ellias was pleased the playwright corresponded with him to share his perspective. He said Thompson, who was 28 years old when he wrote the play, and 31 when he wrote the screenplay, is 61 years old now, and it’s the 30th anniversary of the movie.

“He responded immediately and he’s really a great guy, very gracious, and he gave me a lot of perspective on really trusting the play and the way the play is written and how it was supposed to be,” Elias said.

Ellias said that Thompson recommended that they not make the characters “too soft.”

“This really is a dysfunctional family,” Ellias said. “There are still lots of laughs and fun to be had but there’s a lot of seriousness to it, too. It’s a family that lots of us know, lots of us have seen and he (Thompson) feels that oftentimes directors soften it and he felt that you really needed to… trust the material, trust the characters the way they are written… that’s the way he always thought it should be played and it works.”

Ellias added that one thing that you get with a play that you don’t get with a movie is a smaller environment and a more intimate setting, and that “you’re going to be at Golden Pond with all the characters.”

He said the show is a drama with comedy, and that there are a lot of laughs.

“It is a drama in the sense that there are family issues that are going on,” Ellias said. “We’re going to see where they’ve been, and we’re going to look at a resolution.”

They are doing the show in the present day.

“It’s really a timeless piece,” Ellias said. “The characters are as true today as they were back then.”

Playwright Thompson premiered a brand new song for the 30th anniversary of the show, “The Father Daughter Dance,” recorded by musical legend Carly Simon and created by Simon, Thompson and Joe Deleault.

Thompson, Deleault and world-renowned fiddler Natalie McMaster also created and premiered a second new song, “On Golden Pond,” as well. Ellias said Thompson premiered the music during a summer stage production in New Hampshire, and the Guild’s stage production will be the first use of the new music in Michigan.

Salow, who plays Norman, encourages people to come see the play because they will be able to laugh and understand it as it relates to their own lives or the lives of their parents, as well as giving them a little insight.

Wolter, who plays Ethel, last appeared on the Guild stage five years ago in “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

She said that while the play follows the plot of the movie, the play offers a level of intimacy that the movie cannot offer.

“The experience of being in a live theater is so different. It’s just a much more intimate setting,” Wolter said. “When you’re at a movie, you’re just watching; the actors aren’t getting any feedback from the audience.”

She added that people can identify with at least one or more of the characters.

“Certainly anybody that has aging parents certainly can identify with Ethel and Norman,” Wolter said. “Certain dysfunctional problems that we have within our little family here that people certainly people can relate to … it touches people in a way so it’s worth coming to see.”

Alami, as Billy Ray Jr., is a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Sacred Heart School in Dearborn. He is a newcomer to the Guild, but not the stage.

“I think it’s a really great show and it’s coming together really nicely and I can’t wait to hear what other people say about it,” Alami said.

Pletzer agreed with Alami’s assessment of the show. She says her character, Chelsea, the adult daughter, is very angry.

“She’s got a lot of anger at her father and she just doesn’t know what to do with it,” Pletzer said. “She wasn’t ready to make peace but then she figures she’d better start. She tries to get to a better place for her dad and her mother and herself.”

She is excited to be onstage again with Wolter and Salow, who played her mother and father when the Guild did “Moon Over Buffalo.”

She said the playwright encouraged them to make Chelsea’s character deeper, to not be afraid to “go to those placers that were a little darker.”

Grossman, who plays Billy Ray, gets the biggest kick out of hearing Billy Ray Jr. sound like an old man and Norman sound like a kid.

“Generations don’t really matter once you connect,” Grossman said. “It’s kind of cool to see those characters evolve.”

For more information call the Guild’s ticket line at (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

The Dearborn Heights Civic Theatre will hold auditions from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 12 and 13 for the Neil Simon play “Biloxi Blues” at the Berwyn Center, 26155 Richardson in Dearborn Heights.

The show is the middle play in a trilogy based loosely on Simon’s own life. DHCT performed Simon’s first play of the Eugene trilogy, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” last season.

Valerie Haas will direct the show, which will be produced by Brian Tillman. The show will be performed Nov. 4, 5, 11 and 12 at the Berwyn Center.

There are roles for six men and two women. Those auditioning need not be present for both nights of the auditions, but are welcome to attend both sessions.

The second of the Eugene trilogy follows 20-year-old Eugene Morris Jerome from Brooklyn when he is drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II and is sent to Biloxi, Miss. for basic training. Eugene uses humor to defuse tension among his fellow draftees. He also falls in love, loses his virginity and learns to survive the intimidating eccentricities of his drill sergeant.

The show’s characters include:

Arnold Epstein: (Age 18 to 22) A fellow New Yorker who has a very sensitive digestive tract. He hates the military and refuses to conform. He is also intelligent and well read.
Joseph Wykowski: (Age 20 to 25) A big guy who is tough, a bully and, according to Eugene, “probably the best soldier in the platoon.” He is shrewd but not smart, and doesn’t hide his prejudices.

Roy Selridge: (Age 20 to 25) he is also a tough guy, but not very smart, and is a bit of a toady for Wykowski.

Don Carney: (Age 18 to 22) He is a dreamer who has trouble making up his mind. He is under the mistaken impression that he sings like Perry Como.

James Hennessey: (Age 18 to 22) He is quiet, an observer and a peacemaker. He also has a secret.

Sergeant Toomey: He is a hard-ass drill sergeant from the South. He is a bit on the crazy side, which is not entirely due to the steel plate in his head.

Daisy: (Age 17 to18) She is a sweet Catholic school girl Eugene meets at a USO dance. She is in two scenes.

Rowena: (In her 40s) A prostitute. She is in one scene.

Toomey, Daisy and Rowena have Southern accents. Eugene, Epstein, Wykowski, Selridge and Carney have, to varying degrees, New York and New Jersey accents.

For more information, go to the DHCT website, www.dhctstage.org.