Theatre players relish roles of Norm and Ethel Thayer in their golden years

(Image is Clickable Link) CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Norman Thayer, played by Jim Butterfield, meets his daughter's new stepson and his new grandson. Focusing their skills on a play a touch more on the serious side, Sandy Actors Theatre (SAT) will premiere their production of the classic "On Golden Pond" by Ernest Thompson at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27.

Imbued with family drama, the play follows the love and lives of Norman and Ethel Thayer, their grown daughter and her new family as they visit their vacation home on Golden Pond in New England and struggle to come to terms with the facts of their aging years.

"It's nice sometimes to really get your audiences involved," Director Jonica Tabler says of their decision to take on this well-known production. "It's a wonderful story. Very poignant. It's always very current about aging and the end of life … A lot of people know this play. We did 'The Odd Couple.' We did several that people are very familiar with. And sometimes that's just really nice too: to build our audience base."

Anita Sorel, leading lady, playing the part of Ethel Thayer, also had a say in the choosing of this drama and hopes to keep SAT's streak of good attendance up with another popular pick.

"'Odd Couple' almost sold out because people knew the movie — they knew the TV series," Sorel says. "So, people who I think may not have come here before came, and we're hoping that the same thing will happen with this. People who have seen the movie (or) heard of it come and pass word onto their friends, and we might get a lot of new people."

Playing Sorel's counterpart, as Ethel's husband Norman Thayer, is actor Jim Butterfield.

Chemistry is "essential" for these two characters, Tabler says, and Butterfield and Sorel just have it.

"Ever since the first day we met in a coffee shop and Joni decided to cast me as the replacement, we just hit it off," Butterfield says. "We've just had so much fun ... If the chemistry between Norman and Ethel doesn't work, then the play doesn't work."

Tabler agrees. "I will say that from the director's point of view that, yeah, the chemistry between these two is phenomenal. That's really what the play is based on, is their love story."

Sorel says her favorite part of working on the play is quite possibly her "leading man."

"He's an absolute joy to work with," Sorel says. "I am his straight man. Norman has all of the jokes." And for Sorel, "being a straight man is very difficult."

A more challenging aspect of characterization for Sorel has been finding her version of Ethel.

Her part has been played by many different famous actresses over the years, including the late Katharine Hepburn back in the 1981 film drama by the same name.

"I think it's a marvelous part," Sorel says. "The challenge is that two of the most famous actresses ever have done it. So there's no way you're not going to be compared. I daily try to make her more like me, to make her come out of me and not try to be anything like the others … I'm trying to discover parts of me that work."

For Butterfield, Norman "is one of those parts that one wants to play if one is male and has reached a certain age range."

"There are some parts in the world that if you're an actor — if you're an old, male actor — (you) want to play them," Butterfield says. "Norman is one of those parts. I was thrilled."

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