Reflections on ‘Golden Pond’: Guild’s opener a delightful getaway

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Dearborn actor Lindel Salow (left) as Norman Thayer Jr. and Canton actress Debbie Pletzer as Chelsea, his estranged daughter, will open the Players Guild of Dearborn 2011-12 season in Ernest Thompson’s stage play “On Golden Pond.” Dearborn resident James Kirwan created the backdrop. The show opened Friday and will run for three weekends. For more information call (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

By Sue Suchyta
The Players Guild of Dearborn’s season opener, Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond” reflects well on the talented cast and crew.

The show, which opened Friday, will run weekends through Oct. 2, with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday shows and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. The theater is at 21730 Madison, near Monroe and Outer Drive in Dearborn. The building is handicap-accessible.

Tickets are $15 and may be ordered by phone or online. For more information call the Guild’s ticket line at (313) 561-TKTS or go to www.playersguildofdearborn.org.

Directed by Alan Ellias of Farmington Hills, the stage play offers a more intimate version of the story than the movie, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981 (losing in an upset to “Chariots of Fire”). The characters of Norman and Ethel Thayer did, however, earn Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda Academy Awards for their respective leads.

Retired professor Norman and his wife Ethel have spent their summers at a peaceful New England cottage on the shores of Golden Pond for most of their married life. However, his health and memory is failing, which is frightening to them both. It does, however, force his adult daughter to confront her childhood resentment and make peace with her father while she still has a chance. In addition, the daughter’s teenage stepson gives Norman a chance to connect with the youth in a way he never did with his daughter.

Lindel Salow and Nancy Wolter are superb as Norman and Ethel Thayer, capturing the easy banter and practiced ease of a long-time couple.

Salow said he was startled to discover that he bore an uncanny resemblance to his father when he aged his appearance with stage make-up and added gray to his hair for the role.

Pat Denyer is entertaining as Charlie, their mailman and friend. Debbie Pletzer, as Chelsea, effectively projects the anger and conflicting emotions of an adult daughter struggling to let go of longtime resentment to make peace with an aging parent.

The strong supporting cast also includes Omar Alami as teenager Billy Ray Jr. and Ross Grossman of Farmington Hills as Bill Ray, Chelsea’s finance’.

The real scene stealer, though, is Jim Kirwan’s beautiful hand-painted backdrop of Golden Pond itself, which Guild member and lighting professional David Reynolds Jr. magnificently lit to reflect different times of day, from morning to midday to sunset.

Photo by Sue Suchyta


Jim Rollet (right) of Southgate, portrays Joe Benjamin, who has his faith tested by God through his messenger, Sidney Lipton, portrayed by Conrad Szybisty (left) of Westland, in the Southgate Community Players’ production of the Neil Simon play, “God’s Favorite.” The show, which opened Friday, runs for one more weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at The Corner Playhouse, 12671 Dix-Toledo Road in Southgate. For more information call (734) 282-4727 or go to www.scponstage.com.

‘GOD’S FAVORITE’ IN SOUTHGATE
The Southgate Community Players opened a two-week run of the Neil Simon play “God’s Favorite” on Friday. The show, based loosely on the Biblical story of Job, will finish its run at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at The Corner Playhouse, 12671 Dix-Toledo Road in Southgate.

Tickets are $15, and may be purchased by phone or at the door. For more information call (734) 282-4727 or go to www.scponstage.com.

“God’s Favorite” was written in 1974 shortly after the 1973 death of Simon’s first wife. The story centers on a man whose faith is tested when an oddball messenger urges him to renounce God, who has supposedly made a bet with the devil in favor of Joe Benjamin’s faithfulness. The devoted but wealthy man then undergoes all sorts of hardships, from his business burning to uncontrollable itching.

Jim Rollet of Southgate both directed the show and played the lead role of Joe Benjamin. He and Conrad Szybisty of Westland, who plays God’s goofball messenger Sidney Lipton, provide the funniest and fastest paced scenes. They use both physical comedy and clever quips to entertain the audience.

Others in the cast include Cheryl Eagel of Trenton as Rose Benjamin, Joe’s wife, Erin K. Schmidt of Brownstown and Brigette Clements of Flat Rock as Joe’s daughters, Sarah and Becky, and Joshua LaPeer of Allen Park as David Benjamin, Joe’s troubled son.

Chris Rollet, Jim’s brother, both produced the show and designed the set, which changes from a well-appointed mansion to a fire-scarred wreck during intermission.

‘FREUD’S LAST SESSION’ AT THE CENTURY THEATRE
The historic Gem and Century Theatres kick off their 20th anniversary season with Mark St. Germain’s off-Broadway hit play “Freud’s Last Session.”

The show, which opened Sept. 7, will run through Nov. 20 at the Century Theatre, 333 Madison in Detroit’s theatre district.

For more information on show times, tickets and dining packages, call (313) 963-9800 or go to www.gemtheatre.com.

Set on the day England enters World War II, “Freud’s Last Session” centers on a fictional meeting between Freud and C.S. Lewis, then a young professor, now remembered as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia.

While Lewis initially expects to be chastised for satirizing Freud in his writing, he soon discovers that Freud, who has advanced mouth cancer, has a more urgent reason for the meeting: he wants to know why Lewis believes in God.

The resultant exchange between two bright yet vastly different men is a fascinating look at their differing views on God, love and life.

Mitch Greenberg, who plays Freud, and Cory Krebsbach as Lewis are superb performers. What could be a boring show is not: the fictional meeting of two brilliant men is a fast-paced mental sword fight. The topics change quickly, and when one verbally parries, the other intellectually thrusts, and like gentlemen, each respects the well-placed intellectual reasoning and cerebral jabs aimed at each other’s point-of-view.

Greenberg and Krebsbach make the most of the wonderfully written script to keep the pace lively and fascinating.

St. Germain’s script blends humor with word play. It is also intelligent and thought-provoking at the same time. Listening and processing the fictional conversation between the two great thinkers is a mind-broadening experience, and encourages one to examine the basis for their own religious philosophy (or lack thereof) as well.

The set, ostensibly Freud’s study, is richly appointed, with a treasure trove of books and a small army of deity sculptures scattered throughout the room like silent line judges for the match of minds.

Freud scores a point when he contends that while mankind has evolved in the physical sense, they haven’t morally, using the Nazis as an example.

Lewis points out that you can’t recognize a straight line unless you know a crooked one, and that admitting to sins helps you recognize them.

Lewis, who admitted to being a reluctant convert to Christianity, described two ways of recognizing Christendom: Living in it so that one is too close to see it, or living so far away from it that one can see it from a distance.

Lewis also argues that the gospels aren’t myths, saying that they aren’t artistic enough to be mere literature. He also persistently points out the difference between real happiness, which he defines as joy, and temporary pleasure.

Freud in turn compares the persistence of religious converts with that of recovering alcoholics. He explains that he struggles with why music moves him, since he does not understand the emotion, using the example to allude to why religion baffles, frustrates and angers him.

Freud, however, concedes that the only thing worse than questioning beliefs is for one to deny one’s doubts and curiosity.

While audience members won’t be on Freud’s couch for their session, they will be comfortably ensconced in nearby chairs at tables in the Century Theatre’s dining room for the fascinating 90-minute session. To book your appointment, call (313) 963-9800.

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