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Oct. 7, 2004
Behind the Stage Door

How they spent their summer vacation


AS FALL DRIZZLES IN, A MARVELOUS PRODUCTION of On Golden Pond opens the Ferndale Repertory Theatre's 33rd season. This award-winning play was written by Ernest Thompson and adapted by him for both film and television. As the play opens, an elderly couple arrives at their sPhoto of Marily McCormick and Lance Dickson in "On Golden Pond"ummer home at the lake to begin their 48th year of watching the loons, battling the bugs and chatting with their mailman and each other.

[Marilyn McCormick and Lance Dickson. Photo by Dan Tubbs.]

Cantankerous and physically frail, Norman Thayer (Lance Dickson) is an 80-year-old retired professor with all the prejudices and affectations of someone accustomed to being on a platform with an audience in rapt attention. His wife, Ethel (Marilyn McCormick), 10 years his junior, specializes in politely and impolitely taking him down a notch whenever he gets too high in the clouds. She also tries to reconcile Norman with his daughter, Chelsea (Marilyn Foote), whom he criticizes unmercifully -- still remembering her as a chubby child and complaining about everything she said or did.

Their mailman (John Olson) has had a crush on Chelsea since they were both children. Poignantly he pesters Ethel to read Chelsea's latest letter, only to find out that she will be coming for her first visit in eight years, bringing a new boyfriend, Bill Ray (Jim Buschmann), a high-priced Mercedes-driving Los Angeles dentist.

When Chelsea and Bill arrive, they also bring Bill's 13-year-old son, Billy (Daniel McBride). At opposite ends of life's journey, the boy's practical teenage attitude and hip-hop vocabulary are more than a match for Norman's choleric outlook on what little life may be left to him. Over the summer, the presence of the youngster revitalizes the old man; they spend all their time fishing and talking about good books.

Every actor in this play is a delight to watch. Dickson's metamorphosis from an aging near-invalid to a reinvigorated man of purpose when challenged by his surrogate grandson is marvelously subtle and punctuated by a wonderful "hmmm" that will have you smiling whenever he hums it. McCormick is neither as old nor as frail as she looks. She plays the devoted outdoors woman married to a bookish man afraid to get lost in the woods. You can feel her love, excitement, happiness, impatience and fear all the way to row Q. She projects a loving tolerance of a man few could take for long, leavened with a lifetime of being second fiddle to his ego.

We've all known people who regress to adolescence the minute their parents are around. Foote captures this perfectly in her portrayal of the lost girl who can't grow up until she and her father are at peace with each other. Buschmann is at his finest when, as the polite new boyfriend, he won't tolerate Dickson's dominating attempt at male bonding. He grows some spine and establishes his equality in the relationship in a deft little scene of life in the pecking order. Olsen's bear-like presence and repeated exclamation "Holy Mackinoley!" could so easily become a caricature that it was a pleasure to watch him create a human dimension from such limited material. McBride is a brilliant teenage foil for Dickson's physical and verbal humor. It's hard to play the straight man especially at a young age, but McBride manages it with deft timing and a keen sense of humor.

Director Renee Grinnell, set designer Daniel L. Lawrence, light designer Jessie Talbert, and stage manager Shannan Dailey all deserve praise for a technically flawless production. Art from the Hart gallery in the Rep usually features art that "goes along with the show." I had trouble figuring out the connection between the lovely paintings of local scenery by talented artist Leslie R. Fergusen until I realized that she's married to equally talented set designer and actor Dan Lawrence, who is also KHUM's "Digital Dan."

Performances continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., through Oct. 23. Thursday, Oct. 21, is Actor's Benefit Night where proceeds from the show go to the cast and crew. For reservations and information call 786-5483 or visit The Ferndale Repertory Theatre is located at 447 Main St., Ferndale.



Kicking off its 30th season, Dell'Arte presents The Golden State, a raucous, sexy farce inspired by Molière's comic gem, The Miser. Opening night at the Carlo Theatre is Friday, Oct. 8; the show runs Oct. 9-10, and Oct. 14-17 at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 668-5663 or visit



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