50th Jubilee Season!

By Michael Warren


Lakeside boasts the oldest English-speaking theater in Mexico. Back in the 50’s, a group of variously talented people living in Chapala, finding nothing to do but drink and have cocktail parties (often three or four a day), decided they would put on a play. One of the most talented of this group was Betty Kuzell, and she wrote a musical play From Kokomo to Mexico about her travels and the lives of her friends. Kokomo was such a hit that in no time a full-scale organization of actors, directors and other theater professionals was formed –they had a lot of fun doing plays, and incidentally the plays prevented them from drinking themselves to death.

placa-lltThe Old Train Station was available and became their first home. After the Government of Jalisco acquired the site, they had to give it up and moved briefly to the Spa area in San Juan Cosala, and then to the Real de Chapala hotel. Finally, in 1965, the Lakeside Little Theatre was officially formed with Betty Kuzell as the first President of the fledgling organization. They started out in the Chula Vista clubhouse with an original production of The Saddlebag Saloon. The ticket price was 100 pesos (at that time, about three dollars).

Richard-Vath-and-JoyceThis is where the story really begins. Some years later, a few alumni from the famous Pasadena Playhouse in California retired to this area, and set to work gathering funds for a permanent theatrical home. Members of the fund-raising committee were, among others, Joyce and Richard Vath, Tod Jonson and Ektor Carranza, and Oakhill School director Wayne Palfrey and his wife Dale. Through Wayne’s numerous connections, the land on which the theater now stands was acquired as a donation from Ricardo O’Rourke of Lloyd Investments. By 1986, enough money had been raised to commence building and Jack Bateman, an architect, took charge of the project. The grand opening of the current theater took place at the beginning of 1988 with a production of Don’t Drink The Water directed by Rocky Karns. Rocky had been a prominent character actor in Hollywood, and had strong roles in movies now considered classics, The Caine Mutiny and It’s a Wonderful Life.

old-postersThere have been so many great shows over the past 50 years that it’s hard to pick out what to mention.  Here are a few names from those early years: Richard Varno (co-starred with Greta Garbo in one or two movies); Kate Karns (one of 12 starlets at Paramount Studios); Albert and Angela Rouse (from the British theatre – she was President of LLT for several years); Joyce Vath (a professional actress who appeared in more than 30 LLT plays); Richard Vath (Pasadena Playhouse President, with more than 20 movies and TV episodes to his credit)- Richard directed more than two dozen plays for LLT; Tod Jonson, in 23 plays, directed five; BJ Byrne, an actress who had a continuing role on the NBC TV program The Donna Reed Show; Alejandro Grattan (screenwriter/director) whose last movie, Only Once in a Lifetime had premiered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; Barbara Clippinger, a featured dancer on the old Jackie Gleason Show; Norma Lyerly (actress from Hollywood); Gerda Kelly (runway model for Chanel); Ruth Netherton (directed 23 plays); Mickey Church, a great character actress who appeared in many LLT plays; Don Holliday, who had done plays in London’s West End (and was a decorated Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain in WW2); and finally the late Anya Flesh (choreographer and dancer) .For many years Anya and Richard Vath were the two most outstanding LLT directors. Prior to coming to Lakeside, Vath had worked for the prestigious Nederlander Organization, directing plays in its theaters all over the United States.


anya-fleshAnya created no less than 12 musicals from 1999 through 2008 that were truly vibrant and entertaining. In her 2008 obituary in the New York Herald-Tribune, the writer says “Flesh prided herself on originality. As a young red-headed dancer named Anya Lee, she had worked with famed choreographer Agnes DeMille, who staged some touring productions of her Broadway musicals. But when Flesh choreographed those shows for amateur theaters, she put her own stamp on the productions.” Particularly memorable were her powerful Lakeside productions of Cabaret, Quilters and The Miracle Worker, this last with Cindy Paul in a tour-de-force performance as “Annie Sullivan.”

todTod Jonson and Ektor Carranza created 51 sets over a 25-year association with the Lakeside Little Theatre. And there have been many others over the years, contributing their time and skills, both backstage and onstage. It’s a volunteer effort – no one is paid.  After the relatively primitive early beginnings, we come to where we are today, with recent notable improvements to the building and sound equipment, an investment in solar electricity and a revolving stage! It’s a splendid place with 112 seats, a theater that any community group in any country would be proud to have.  Lakeside Little Theatre continues to provide drama and entertainment in a 50-year tradition in what has to be a most unusual fishing village in the entire world.

Of course there are a number of talented individuals who now contribute to LLT’s continuing reputation, both on-and off-stage. When El Ojo del Lago comes to write the 75th anniversary article, there will be many new names and sterling achievements to be added to the honor roll.

 (Many thanks to Tod Jonson for his assistance and amazing memory!)



Dracula, Tale of the Nosferatu',  Nov 1993
 directed by Richard Vath


Dracula, Tale of the Nosferatu',  Nov 1993
 directed by Richard Vath 

plays 50

The Season 50 lineup of shows


Rocky Karns and Liz White:
 ‘Sauce for the Goose', Oct 1997


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