11/12/12 3:59pm
The "On Golden Pond" cast, from left: Noah Ludlow, Thomas Cardisco, Rusty Kransky, Che Sabalja, Marion Stark and Bill Kitzerow.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
The “On Golden Pond” cast, from left: Noah Ludlow, Thomas Cardisco, Rusty Kransky, Che Sabalja, Marion Stark and Bill Kitzerow.

What is more pleasant than visiting a glimmering pond in the woods, pinkish at dawn, golden all the afternoon and russet at dusk? Its placid surface seems created for contemplation.

In 1978, a 27-year-old Ernest Thompson used such a setting for his pleasant, placid play that he surprisingly titled “On Golden Pond.” It is a lovely play, as unsurprising as its title and it is given a lovely, unsurprising presentation at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

Aristotle said drama depends on plot, but many distinguished people dispute him. There is no plot in “On Golden Pond.” It is all character and ingratiating conversation.

The father, Norman Thayer, is a crusty, crotchety senior, suspicious of foreigners (especially Jews), but as well played by Rusty Kransky, his tongue-in-cheek sharp wit allows him to get away with it — or did 34 years ago when the play was first produced.

Ethel, his honest and sensible wife, is played by Marion Stark with abundant good humor and charm. In one of the sweetest moments of the play, while Thayer is busy insulting people to keep them at a distance, Ethel tells him, “You are the sweetest man in the world and I am the only one who knows it.”

Their daughter, Chelsea, beautifully played by Che Sabalja, calls her father Norman, but her mother Mom. She complains gently that her father never made any close contact with her. When she comes for a visit, she brings her fiancé, honestly played by Tom Cordisco, and her prospective stepson, 10-year-old Billy, well played by Noah Ludlow.

The youngster is the one who finally thaws Thayer’s heart to genuine affection and Norman learns to live anew. This may sound like TV-style tidiness, but the audience is charmed and cheered by it. The director, Robert Horn, and the cast escape a disastrous dive into what one critic called “the deep end of weepitude.”

Whatever the play, brand new or a classic, an actor’s greatest magic is the ability to surprise. The turns an actor’s emotions can take, the waves of nostalgia a line washes over us, a scene nudging a memory or two of our own — these are the actors’ secret weapons. At one point in the play, Ethel and Chelsea surprise and elate us by breaking into an old camp song. It comes seemingly out of nowhere with utter naturalness. Charlie, the mailman, delightfully played by Bill Kitzerow, also surprises with his manic laugh and spaniel-like desire to please.

The movie, based on the play “On Golden Pond,” featured Henry Fonda and his daughter, Jane. Over the years, these two stars had made no secret of their estrangement, but they became reconciled during this filming, much in the same way Thayer and Chelsea did. Jane’s father died shortly after.

The American master of nature writing, Henry David Thoreau, shared with the character Thayer a poor opinion of his fellow men and avoided them when he could. He wrote: “I went to Walden Pond to front the essential facts of life and see if I could learn what it had to teach. We must learn to re-awaken ourselves by holding an infinite expectation of the dawn.” It’s a good reminder after the havoc of Hurricane Sandy.

Performances continue through Nov. 18. For tickets, visit nfct.com.

03/22/12 6:00pm

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The North Fork Community Theatre presents 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' beginning tonight and running through April 1.

“How to to succeed … ” Well, first of all, go to North Fork Community Theatre and “without even trying” you’ll succeed in adding two hours of joy to your life. Then, driving home, sing what you remember of “I Believe in You,” furtively glancing at your own image in the rearview mirror.

The ingenious Pulitzer Prize musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is the work of the theatrical giants Cy Feurer, producer; Abe Burrows, writer; and the great Frank Loesser, who provided the memorable music and lyrics.

‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’
North Fork Community Theatre
Old Sound Avenue, Mattituck
Performances continue March 22, 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, 31 and April 1. Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday, 2:30 p.m. For tickets, call 298-6328 or visit nfct.com.

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Its brilliant satire, sharp but appealing, shares its ’60s sensibilities with the hit TV show “Mad Men” (which, incidentally boasts the original star of “How to Succeed,” Robert Morse). The material was originally from a book by Shepard Mead entitled “The Dastard’s Guide to Fame and Fortune” and makes fun of the treacherous path up the corporate ladder. Frank Loesser said he liked the idea of making money by making fun of people devoted to making money.

One of the reasons to go see the NFCT production is the role of J. Pierrepont Finch, performed by the personable, inventive, likable charmer Michael Hipp. We watch enchanted as he advances from window washer to chairman of the board.

Rosemary, who desires to be his corporate wife, is played by Tara McKenna with dedication and aplomb. It demands a stretch of the imagination for a 2012 woman to convince us she is a female of 1960 — especially in numbers like “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.”

Peter Peterson is excellent as the boss’ nephew and Lindsey Scoggin is the only actor up there who is completely believable as a businessman. He provides the whole production with a basic standard from which the comedy can take off. Sherry Powers does the same for the secretaries.

David Markel, who consistently provides the NFCT with excellent performances, gives his best yet here as J.B. Biggley. He creates a hilarious and original characterization which is delightful. Jan McKenna as Hedy LaRue is a great audience favorite and her duet “Love From a Heart of Gold” with Mr. Markel is exactly right, skillfully funny with a dash of sincerity.

Other rewarding moments are Marguerite Volonts’ surprising and memorable contribution to “The Brotherhood of Man,” Luke Sisson’s perfect game show announcer and Amanda Mouzakes’ wonderful scrubwoman. The rest of the company includes Samantha Payne-Markel, Charlie Lehner, Lon Shomer, John Hudson, Heather Cusack, Brandon Hollborn, Corinne Araneo and Becca Mincieli.

Unfortunately, the show as a whole is slow and laborious, although intermittent numbers and scenes sparkle.

America’s great contribution to the theater is how our musicals are models of integration. They cement story, lyrics, acting, singing and dancing, creating a closely woven continuity.

The piano cannot run out of cover music, and an actor must not run out of words before he gets to his exit; the audience must not sit in quiet darkness, ever. The answer to all these problems is divinely inspired cuts. Don’t be afraid to cut; be afraid not to.

We are all aware of NFCT’s admirable endeavor, now nearing its deadline, to buy its theater building. You can do your part in supporting that endeavor by buying tickets to see this lively show, directed by Bob Beodeker and produced by Mary Motto Kalich. You won’t be disappointed.