‘The play’s the thing’: Thunder River celebrates 20 years with ‘Hamlet’ | AspenTimes.com

‘The play’s the thing’: Thunder River celebrates 20 years with ‘Hamlet’

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Thunder River Theatre Company director Lon Winston. The comapny's 20th anniversary season begins Sept. 26 with "The Gin Game."
Aspen Times file |

Thunder River Theatre Company embarks on its 20th season later this month, and announced its full season lineup this week.

The season features four productions beginning on Sept. 26 with “The Gin Game,” and includes a production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” which Thunder River founder and executive director Lon Winston calls “the Mount Everest of theater.”

The small theater company has become a player on the regional theater scene and earned a reputation as the valley’s home for serious drama (though they also do comedies most seasons). Highlights of the two decade run, Winston said, have included winning the Colorado Theater Guild’s Henry Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 2012 and building their own black box theater in Carbondale, which opened New Year’s Eve 2005, without carrying any debt.

Of winning the statewide award, Winston said, “That was pretty incredible; that said to me, ‘We’re on the right path. We’re sticking to our mission. We’re committed to an aesthetic value that really speaks to what I always dreamed Thunder River to be.’”

“We’ve got to maintain the legacy of live theater, and I take that on as a responsibility.”
Lon Winston
Director, Thunder River Theatre Company

The anniversary season includes cast and crew members who’ve worked with Thunder River throughout its two decades.

“The Gin Game,” D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, which runs through Oct. 11, is directed by longtime Thunder River hand Brad Moore and stars 18-year company member Julia Whitcombe alongside Bob Moore (most recently seen locally in Aspen Community Theatre’s “The Producers.”)

James Goldman’s “The Lion in Winter,” running Dec. 11 through 21, is directed by local theater vet Mike Monroney, with Winston starring along with Tracy Maddelone LaMee, who 20 years ago was in the company’s inaugural production: David Mamet’s “Oleanna.”

“The idea for me in celebrating the 20th anniversary is that it’s about celebrating everybody who has embraced us over the years, even when we could barely cover their gas money,” Winston said. “That’s where I want the energy to go to — celebrating everybody who has helped us achieve what we’ve achieved, and celebrating all the talent that’s come out of the woodwork.”

The company’s production of “Hamlet,” directed by Winston, will star recent Thunder River standout David Pulliam in the weighty title role. His Thunder River credits in the past two seasons have included “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” “Something Intangible” and “All My Sons.”

Getting Pulliam on board at the company emboldened Winston to stage the Shakespearean classic.

“You can have everybody else in the play, but if you don’t have your Hamlet you don’t do it,” Winston explained. “He’s done remarkable work for us, and a year ago I said to him, ‘I’m ready. Are you ready?’ He said he was. It’s a huge undertaking.”

The season closes in June with Michael Hollinger’s noire comedy “Red Herring.” Hollinger, a former student of Winston’s at Villanova University, has had two previous plays produced by Thunder River.

As its audiences tend to skew toward older locals, Thunder River is making an effort this year to bring younger people and theater newcomers in for its shows, offering a special $50 “20/30 Something” season ticket to anyone aged in their 20s and 30s.

“The valley is aging, and with technology it’s tough to get 20- and 30-somethings into the theater,” Winston said. “But it’s like the SkiCo, if you don’t have those little kids out there, it’s going to go down the tubes. We’ve got to maintain the legacy of live theater, and I take that on as a responsibility.”

Season tickets are $80 for adults, $40 for students. Single tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for full-time students and $17 for 20/30-somethings. Tickets are now on sale at http://www.thunderrivertheatre.com.