The Santa Susana Repertory Company’s current production of “On Golden Pond” could be recommended strictly as a lesson in acting, but that would do the show a disservice. Acting lessons, everybody knows, are stodgy and academic, and this “On Golden Pond” is almost too much fun.
The action takes place at the summer home of the Thayers over a five-month period. It’s a character study with little plot and a conflict that’s slow to make itself known, and quickly resolved. William Windom and Marsha Hunt star as cantankerous, 80-year-old Norman Thayer and his somewhat younger, more reasonable wife, Ethel; and Anne Lockhart and Barry Van Dyke are featured as the Thayers’ daughter, Chelsea, and her fiance, Bill. They’re wonderful. Hunt, whose stage and film career dates back to the ‘30s, even displays a still-strong singing voice, and the role of Norman fits Windom, most recently a regular on “Murder, She Wrote,” like a pair of well-worn boots.
There are also fine performances from Bill Jones and Jeff Arias as Charlie, the local mailman, and Billy, the Van Dyke character’s teenage son. Under Allan Hunt’s direction, all create three-dimensional, subtle portraits. There are wonderfully played separate confrontations between Norman and his daughter and prospective son-in-law, and the developing relationship between Norman and Billy is as believable here as Norman and Ethel’s long-standing marriage.
And there’s a screen door that’s almost a seventh character in Ernest Thompson’s hugely and deservedly popular script. That door is a small part of set designer Michael Roehr’s impressive rendering of the Thayers’ vacation home; it looks ready to move into right now.
Trek to Ojai
The unsinkable Plaza Players have resurfaced in Ojai following the close of their Ventura theater and just shy of their 50th anniversary. Their current production, “After the Light Goes,” is perfect for artsy-craftsy Ojai, based as it is on the lives of artist Georgia O’Keeffe and the photographer, agent and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz.
Getting the play is something of a scoop for the Players. This is the first production of Nancy J. Klementowski’s play outside of Portland, Ore., where it premiered in 1991.
O’Keeffe, best known for her erotic paintings of flowers and animal bones, was quite the bohemian. Preferring the wide-open spaces and light, she lived in Taos, N.M., while her husband, preferring whatever it is that people like about New York City, continued to reside in New York. When they married, in 1924, she was 37 and he was 60. Both went on to have affairs: Stieglitz with the assistant and model whom he hired when O’Keeffe moved West; she with others, including, in Klementowski’s distillation of O’Keeffe’s life, fellow artist Beck Strand.
Director Michael Maynez has staged the play as a multimedia production, including elements of dance and slides of O’Keeffe’s own paintings in the show. Susan Royce and Ronald Rezac star as O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, with Kris Pustina as O’Keeffe’s sister, Leslie Nichols as New Mexico art patron Mabel Dodge, and Jeanie Hays as Strand.
The acting is--intentionally, probably--stilted and dreamlike, thus difficult to judge by regular standards but certainly acceptable for what it is.
The scenes between O’Keeffe and Strand are less formal and particularly winning. While “After the Light Goes” isn’t for everybody (parents should be prepared to explain the O’Keeffe-Strand relationship if they take youngsters), fans of the painter and those looking for a deeper understanding of her work should find it interesting.
“On Golden Pond” continues through March 2 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theater, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. Shows are at 8:30 Fri. and Sat. evenings, and 2:30 Sun. afternoons. Tickets are $22, adults, $20 for seniors and students, and are available at the box office. Call 497-8616.
“After the Light Goes” continues through March 2 at the Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery in Ojai. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. Admission is $10 adults; $8 seniors, students and Art Center members. Call 653-2378.