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Published: Friday, 1/23/2004

Ritz looks at relationships

Norman and Ethel Thayer, played by Mark Deerwester of Fostoria and Peg Baker of Tiffin, share a tender moment. Norman and Ethel Thayer, played by Mark Deerwester of Fostoria and Peg Baker of Tiffin, share a tender moment.
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On Golden Pond opens tonight in the Ritz Theatre in Tiffin, the first production of the season for the Ritz Players. The community theater is a little late getting started this season, according to director Dianne Pytel, but there's a good reason for that: the success of their venue.

The Ritz Players perform in the restored 1928 vaudeville house that seats 1,200 people, she said. "We share the space with the professional shows, and the Ritz has been really busy the last few months." The Players comprise volunteer actors, crew, and performers, but they are supported by the Ritz staff and marketing department, which Pytel called a great arrangement.

Pytel, who has been directing in area community theaters for more than 20 years, is equally enthusiastic about her production and its two leads. Mark Deerwester of Fostoria plays Norman Thayer, a crotchety retired professor who, despite his academic brilliance, never figured out how to relate to his only child, Chelsea. Peg Baker, a veteran performer for the Ritz, plays his feisty but patient wife, Ethel.

The Thayers spend the summer at their cottage on a lake in Maine. This year, their tranquility is interrupted when Chelsea arrives with her lover and his son, Billy, whom they leave with the Thayers for the summer. Although Norman's attitude toward Billy starts out being as brittle as his relationship with Chelsea, with Ethel's help he slowly develops a fondness for the boy, and by extension, a more fulfilling relationship with his daughter.

Ernest Thompson's play is a story about relationships. Ethel and Norman have been married for about 48 years, which is one relationship. There are the generational struggles between Norman and his daughter. Then you add Billy, who represents the next generation.

"This one has just a wonderful sense of reality," Pytel said. "I really enjoy that the characters are well-rounded and multilayered and the humor is genuine. The events feel true, and I think the cast has really captured that."

Pytel said she and her cast spent the first several rehearsals talking about the characters and creating lives for them. When the characters come on stage, they bring a past with them, she said, adding that such background helps the actors understand their roles. "The play really does lend itself to that introspection."

Although On Golden Pond is a staple of community theater, this is the first time the Ritz Players have done it, Pytel said. However, Deerwester is portraying Norman for the fourth time. "He does a wonderful job," she said. "He certainly feels the part and is a great asset. Some of the other cast members are brand-new to the stage, and Mark has really helped them have a really excellent experience."

Pytel is just as pleased with Baker, who last year won regional and state awards from the Ohio Community Theater Association for her performance in the Ritz Players' production of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. "Peg has sensitivity and a wonderful balance and calmness. It's part of her own personality, and it certainly works for the character."

The Ritz Players will present "On Golden Pond" at 8 p.m. today, tomorrow, and Jan. 30 and 31 in the Ritz Theatre, 30 South Washington St., Tiffin. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students. Information: 419-448-8544.

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