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Golden times
Hargis puts on final play before directing hiatus

When Anne Hargis directed her first stage play some 23 years ago, her debut production was Ernest Thompson's family drama "On Golden Pond," which was also adapted into a feature film in 1981.

It's fitting, then, that as Hargis plans to take a hiatus from her work in the dramatic arts, her "see you later" production will be - you guessed it - "On Golden Pond."

"It does sort of complete a circle, in a way," said Hargis, a veteran of the boards in the east metro area and certainly a resident who has greatly helped shape the cultural landscape of Rockdale County. "'On Golden Pond' was the first show I ever directed. It feels really fun, because now I'm coming to the material with more experience to be able to tackle it. And there's a real sense of symmetry because when this is over, I'm going to take a sabbatical from the theatre. I'm burned out."

The New Depot Players, in alliance with the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts, will present "On Golden Pond" at 8 p.m. Friday through Oct. 18 and Oct. 22 to 24 in the Black Box Theatre at Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers.

"On Golden Pond" is perhaps best known in its incarnation as a movie released in 1981, with Henry Fonda (in his only Oscar-winning performance), Katharine Hepburn (also an Oscar winner) and Jane Fonda. The story concerns an elderly couple - Norman and Ethel Thayer - coping with declining health and a daughter with whom they've always had issues.

Hargis - who appeared in the New Depot Players' summer production of "Steel Magnolias" - said the superior troupe of actors has made the experience memorable.

"I'm really enjoying myself - this is an awesome cast," she said.

She was particularly complimentary of Joel Chivington, a sophomore at Heritage High School, who portrays the teenaged boy who befriends Norman, and Weldon Durham and Bobbie Elzey in the roles of the aging couple enjoying perhaps their last summer together.

"Joel has some excellent experience, including shooting a movie with Demi Moore and working in 'Les Miserables' at the Fox Theatre. He's got excellent instincts," Hargis said. "And I really wanted an older couple for Norman and Ethel. You can cast younger actors and make them up, but in a small venue like the Black Box Theatre, the audience knows.

"Bobbie, who plays Ethel, is in the artistic company a OnStage Atlanta and has played Ethel before there. Weldon, as Norman, is the anchor of the show," she said. "We had a lot of good guys audition for this role, but they just weren't old enough. We were so lucky to find somebody who had played the role two times before. He's a retired college drama professor from the University of Missouri and he moved here in May."

The cast also includes New Depot vet Kim Fratesi, who plays Norman and Ethel's daughter Chelsea, Rick Bryant as her boyfriend Bill, and Andy Smith as Charlie, a local who's always had a crush on Chelsea, Hargis said.

When asked if she liked working with smaller shows or productions with large casts, Hargis - who has directed and appeared in plays by the original Depot Players, the New Depot Players, the Arts Association in Newton County and Opera To Go - said, "I prefer the smaller casts - 15 or fewer. When your cast is huge, it's like you're an air traffic controller. You're just moving bodies around and you really can't help your actors with character development. There's not enough time to forge a relationship with the show and it's too easy to be one dimensional."

Because "On Golden Pond" is "all about relationships," Hargis - who is collaborating with assistant directors Maria Morales-Johnson and Tom Johnson (no relation) - thought it would be an appropriate vehicle for the New Depot Players to revisit.

"We've done sort of a revival this past year," she said. "We've produced things we know have had high audience appeal in the past. One of the reasons I love this show is because of the relationships - there's family, there are connections that are rocky and aren't as good as they should be, there's redemption and there's the issue of aging. Norman has heart issues and he's starting to lose his memory. He's not used to dimming and blurring in his world and it's frustrating and challenging."

Although Hargis has said she plans to take an extended break from the spotlights and greasepaint, she admitted the right project could lure her back into the maelstrom.

"It would have to be compelling," she said. "Cyndi Evans, Jay Tryall and I have always backed each other up, and it's always good to have a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at things, to make sure nothing's missing. I'll certainly continue working with Cyndi and if a compelling role comes around, I'll think about reading for it."

SideBar: If you go

· What: "On Golden Pond"

· When: 8 p.m. Friday through Oct. 18 and Oct. 22 to 24

· Where: Black Box Theatre of Center Street Arts in Olde Town Conyers

· Cost: Tickets are $20 for general admission and $16 for seniors and students

· For more information: Call 770-922-3143 or visit www.conyersarts.org.