On Golden Pond

On Golden Pondby Ernest Thompson

October 7 – 23, 2016

Touching, funny and warmly perceptive study of a spirited and lovable elderly couple facing their twilight years. "ON GOLDEN POND is a work of rare simplicity and beauty." —NY Daily News. "…a rare and memorable theatrical experience…" —Variety. "What courage it must have taken for Mr. Thompson in the 1970s to write a play with so much affection in it!" —The New Yorker.

THE REVIEW

On Golden Pond

By Ernest Thompson
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

When Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond premiered on Broadway in 1979, it was a modest success, running for only 126 performances, but winning a Best Actress Tony for the legendary Frances Sternhagen and a number of other awards. It’s been a staple of regional theater groups ever since, being a rare showcase for older talent (there was even a musical version performed locally at the Derby Dinner Playhouse in the very late 90’s, with book and lyrics by Thompson), and is probably best remembered for the 1981 Henry Fonda/Katherine Hepburn/Jane Fonda film version. It also reunited The Sound of Music stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer for a live 2001 television production, over a decade before The Sound of Music Live! made live productions on television a staple again on the small screen.

It’s also the latest offering from Louisville’s own Bunbury Theater, and it’s a production that shows why the show has such staying power. Its themes of love and aging, and generations bonding, are timeless, and the Bunbury show really drives home the message. It really is a beautiful story, sharply directed by Juergen K. Tossmann, and featuring an excellent cast.

The play is set in the living room of a summer home located next to the titular body of water, and we are quickly introduced to the elderly Thayer couple: Norman (Brad Castleberry), strong-willed but slowly losing his faculties as he approaches his 80th birthday, and Ethel (Ann Meyer), his devoted and equally obstinate wife. We get a true sense of a lasting relationship from these two, and Castleberry and Meyer turn in some amazing, soulful performances.

Over the course of their summer vacation, their daughter Chelsea (Tiffany Smith) comes to visit in time for Norman’s birthday festivities, bringing along her fiancé Bill (Francis Whitaker) and Bill’s son, Billy Ray (Connor McGuffey). Also in the wings is the local mailman Charlie (Brent Braun), Chelsea’s high school sweetheart. When Norman and Ethel agree to keep Billy Ray for the summer while Chelsea and Bill take an off-continent vacation, three generations come to terms with family responsibilities, hopefully leading to a late-in-life reconciliation of the strained relationship between Norman and Chelsea.

The show is leisurely paced, especially in the first act, and some viewers may find it too slow at times. But this is by the playwright’s design, and it’s a necessary way to bring the audience around to the simplicity of life in the golden years. The pace picks up significantly when the younger characters are introduced, and I don’t believe that’s by accident – it’s a comment on the mores of the changing generations.

Typical for a Bunbury production, the technical aspects are spot-on, especially with the amazingly detailed set designed by Bob Bush, and the beautifully understated lighting by Gerald Kean.

If you have experienced the change in life that comes with the advanced aging of your parents or other loved ones, or if you yourself are experiencing what life has in store for you in your twilight years, I can’t recommend this show enough. Considering the subject matter, it’s surprisingly upbeat and asks questions that will get you thinking long after you have left the theater.

Featuring Brent Braun, Brad Castleberry, Connor McGuffey, Ann Meyer, Tiffany Smith, and Francis Whitaker.

On Golden Pond

OCTOBER 

7, 8, 9, 13,14,15,20,21,22- 7:30

16,23- 2:30

 

 
 
 

The Santaland Diaries

The SantaLand Diariesby David Sedaris

December 2 – 18, 2016

"A delightfully thorny account of working as a Yuletide elf at Macy's. Priceless observations, both outrageous and subtle. Destined to hold a place in the annals of American humor writing." —NY Times. "THE SANTALAND DIARIES is quite possibly the thirty-one funniest pages of text published in the past quarter century…David Sedaris slays me." —Seattle Weekly.

Starring: Karl Seitz

Showtimes are as follows:
December
2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 - 7:30
4, 11, 18 - 2:30
 

A 30th anniversary Holiday Present for you

A special reading of a new short story

by Juergen K. Tossmann

 

OTTO'S CHRISTMAS GIFT

 

Featuring Matt Orme, Rena Cherry Brown 

Juergen K. Tossmann 

and 

Frank Whitaker

A touching story of a young immigrant boy

and his special Christmas gift

 

When Otto is teased by his teacher and classmates he relies on the friendship of a small group of classmates and his 93 year old Grandfather to guide him through a very difficult time.

 

The reading of OTTO’S CHRISTMAS GIFT will follow

THE SANTALAND DIARIES after a brief intermission

There is no charge for this production when attending 

THE SANTALAND DIARIES

 

Three Tall Women

Three Tall Womenby Edward Albee

February 17 – March 5, 2017

Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize. “This engaging examination of the life of one woman is a perfect illustration of why theater is an indispensable art." —NY Times. "An extraordinarily brilliant play...THREE TALL WOMEN is the best, most forceful play [Albee] has given us.”—NY Post. "Beautiful and enduring.”—The New Yorker. "A dazzler… Electrifying and heartrending, each of Albee's women is memorable…" —Wall Street Journal.

 
 Starring: 
Rena Cherry Brown
Mia Seitz
Carrie Cooke
Patrick Vaughn
 
Directed by: Steve Woodring
Set Design: Tom Tutino
Lighting Design: Gerald Kean
Special Effects : Mary Denis Kannepell
Production Stage Manager: Michelle Seiffertt
Costumes: Holly Jenkins Evans
Assistant Stage Manager: Alyssa Rae
Sound Design: Sidney King
 
Dates and Showtimes:
 
Feb 17th Opening Night - 7:30
18th - 7:30
19th - 2:30
 
23rd - 7:30
24th - 7:30
25th - 7:30
26th - 2:30
 
March
2nd - 7:30
3rd - 7:30
4th - 7:30
5th - 2:30
 

I Bet On The Nag

PLAY-IbetNag23by Juergen K. Tossmann

April 7 – 23, 2017

Returning as a Derby Event

It's one week before the Kentucky Derby. In an empty box at the finish line, Wheaton Papajohn and Vita Prim meet in a chance encounter. He's an avid horse player, she's a novice with secrets. The sparks fly when these opposites learn the true meaning of a wager! “Tossmann’s comedy fills the gap with uncommon gusto.....a generous stream of laughs and ideas that start as soon as this odd couple gets out of the gate..... I BET ON THE NAG! is a sure thing — and a great way to kick of your Derby doings.”–Leo Eccentric Observer

Show Days at times

April 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 - 7:30

        9, 23 - 2:30

Review

‘I Bet on the Nag’ is a sure thing BY MARTY ROSEN

On a Bunbury Theatre set that looks quite like a Churchill Downs box (thanks to Hanna Allgeier’s design and chairs donated by the track itself), a disheveled handicapper, betting slips jutting from his fedora’s hat band, scrutinizes past performances and tip sheets.

It’s a peaceful morning some days before the Kentucky Derby. The celebrities, paparazzi and once-a-year racing fans haven’t yet filled Millionaire’s Row or the infield. And via audible thought bubbles, we know that this fellow is a student of the game — who relishes the peace and quiet.

Pretty quickly his idyllic day goes bad. No sooner does he pick a winner then the track announcer reports it as a late scratch. And again. And again, until his whole card is a mess and we realize this guy has the luck of Job — and far less patience.

It’s a brisk set up for Juergen K. Tossmann’s sparkling new racetrack comedy, “I Bet On the Nag,” which opened last weekend in the Henry Clay Theatre.

Racetrack plays are few. “Guys and Dolls” invokes Damon Runyon’s world of funny, hard-luck tipsters, gangsters, and horseplayers on the make. Fengar Gael’s 2012 drama, “Devil Dog Six,” explores the challenges facing a woman jockey who hopes to get her horse to the Derby (“DD6” hasn’t yet had a Louisville run). And Louisville playwright Larry Muhammad’s fine bio-play, “Jockey Jim,” recounts the improbable career of the great African-American Derby-winning jockey, Jimmy Winkfield (alert: “Jockey Jim” is scheduled at the Henry Clay April 30-May 6).

Tossmann’s comedy fills the gap with uncommon gusto and a couple of great performances, under the direction of Gene Pelfrey. This is by far the tightest, most focused comedy Tossmann has written to date. The cast is small: Tossmann plays the put-upon handicapper, Wheadon Papajohn. Rita Hight plays his femme foil, Vida Prim, who may be clueless about racing but is abundantly savvy about pretty much everything else. (Orin Matte is the voice of the track announcer who plagues poor Papajohn.)

But the economy of means is easily offset by the generous stream of laughs and ideas that start as soon as this odd couple gets out of the gate. The script has all of the Tossmann trademarks. Over the years, he’s penned a marvelous collection of variations on Abbott & Costello’s gag, “Who’s On First?” — and he delivers new twists here, as well as any number of riffs built around hyper-literal uses of language.

“I Bet On the Nag!” feels more effortless and natural than do his earlier plays, some of which were rooted in a Brechtian didacticism. There are plenty of ideas here, but in “Nag” they spring from the characters, rather than the reverse.    

And that makes for some memorable theater. Wheadon rings true as a handicapper. He’s a cynical curmudgeon who is inured to seeing his best chances scratched. But he loves the game, loves the lore, loves the myths and superstitions, and loves studying the form as much as he loves watching the horses run — maybe more. And whether you’re an expert handicapper or have never opened a racing form, you’ll enjoy watching him man-splaining  racing to Vida. You might even learn a thing or two … from both of them. (At least I did, and I’ve been handicapping for decades.)

Vida — for all her “jabbering” (as Wheadon describes it in one of those audible thought bubbles) — usually has a few strides on our hero. And Rita Hight, whom I’ve seen in a few roles over the years, is giving what might be a career-best performance.

In one passage, where Vida rattles off the many states where she’s lived (I counted 11, ranging across the continent from Louisiana to South Carolina, Utah, Minnesota and beyond), Hight slips easily across dialects with the easy virtuosity of a master comedian. Here — as throughout the play — Pelfrey’s cast tech crew (Gerald Kean, lights; Bob Bush, technical director) have sharpened every detail of the script to a fine point.

Much of the action revolves around a tip Vida receives at the concession stand, where she bumps into a tall, silver-haired man with piercing blue eyes and whose name sounds something like Dwayne. Maybe Dwayne Lupus? She’s not sure. And I’m not saying.

But I will offer a tip: “I’ll Bet On the Nag!” is a sure thing — and a great way to kick of your Derby doings.

 
 
 

Stages of Bloom

Stages of Bloomby Liz Fentress

June 9 – 25, 2017

Tensions ensue as ninety-year-old Edith Jones is pressured to sell her home to the church by her rigid brother-in-law. On a cool autumn night, joined by her hapless “yard-man,” the brother-in-law, a young college student and her Marine Corps boyfriend, Edith struggles to assemble an entry for her very last rose show and leave a lasting impression on the world.