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Wednesday, March 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Entertainment

"Golden Pond" reflects on who, what we cherish

Times Snohomish County Bureau

He has played Selsdon Mowbray, the alcoholic ham of "Noises Off"; Nonno, the dignified old poet in "Night of the Iguana"; and even Katharine Hepburn's twin in "Twelfth Night."

But Clayton Corzatte, Seattle's busiest senior actor and a veteran of more than 200 roles, is playing a more down-to-earth character in "On Golden Pond."

He and his wife, Susan, play Norman and Ethel Thayer, a retired couple vacationing on a lake in Maine. For 44 years, they've been coming to her childhood home every summer, but his health scares are making it look like this might be their last trip.

But then Billy, a 13-year-old child of divorced parents, is dropped on their doorstep. The depressed and angry teen is a challenge for the couple, and they settle into a rhythm with "the boy," as they call him, with long summer days spent fishing and, in the absence of TV, talking about books. The experience rejuvenates the retired professor.

The Village Theatre will transfer the play from Issaquah to Everett at 8 p.m. Friday for a run through March 19 at the Everett Performing Arts Center. Norm Spencer's set all but sparkles with reflected lake light when Norman spreads open the gingham curtains. You can hear the loons and almost see the black flies that come in when the side-door screen falls out.

"On Golden Pond"


When: opens at 8 p.m. Friday and runs through March 19. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.

Where: Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave.

Tickets: $20-$44 at 425- 257-8600 or www.villagetheatre.org.

The cast, directed by Jeff Steitzer, has been drawing tears, laughter and standing ovations for the truths revealed about aging, family estrangements and reconciliation.

"I'm in the market for a last hurrah," Norman says.

When he can't remember the old road to the strawberry fields, his wife, scared half to death, assures him, "You're still you."

With eight weeks of performances since the play opened in January, the cast has become a family in the process.

"They are my family — all of them," said 14-year-old Michael Moore, who plays Billy. "It helps for the character, and offstage it's very comfortable."

It's his first professional role, though the Snohomish youth has been acting since he was 8.

"We talk about everything," he said. "They've given me tips on how to deliver the lines and how to handle the laughter from the audience."

"Michael is already a terrific actor," Corzatte said. "This boy's really going to work because there aren't that many people in their early teens who can act this well."

Ernest Thompson's 1978 play has become a popular classic in the vein of "Steel Magnolias" and "Driving Miss Daisy" — no big, splashy effects, just solid truths about family, about who and what we cherish. The 1981 film version of "Pond" earned Oscars for Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

Offstage, Corzatte and his wife "aren't temperamentally like the two in the play," he said.

Norman is "much more of a challenger. He's been a teacher; he challenges everybody. He doesn't stop teaching, but now he does it in a way that employs a lot of humor, and he's unafraid to challenge people even though they may have a negative reaction to him at first."

At the end, the couple share a lingering kiss. Susan Corzatte called it "an important moment for the audience to see. He can rub people the wrong way, but she loves him so much. It's a terrific moment."

Jeanne Paulsen, who plays Norman and Ethel's 42-year-old daughter Chelsea, said what interests her about the play "is trying to get a somewhat-realistic relationship of a daughter who is a different person around her parents." Chelsea brings a lot of baggage from a lifetime of Norman's withheld approval, and it is a summer of insights for her, too.

"It takes Chelsea introducing her husband-to-be and stepson-to-be to get an outside perspective that's healthy," Paulsen said. "And to see what she's contributed to the imbalance of the family."

Paulsen commutes to performances with the Corzattes, sitting in the back seat of their car with their dachshund, which gets a bed on the dressing-room floor while they are in the show. The Corzattes, who have two grown children and a 5-year-old granddaughter, have been married 49 years.

The Corzattes met in a play in 1955 and, like Paulsen, spent several seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Clayton will go on to do "Tuesdays with Morrie" in Arizona after this show, and Susan said she'll join him there.

"Clayton and I don't go separate ways anymore," she said. "We don't have that much time left.

"People talk about theater couples who don't stay together, but there are many who are just like us. It's a wonderful life together."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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