Little House on the Prairie's star is having a good time in Petrolia.

Karen Grassle is overjoyed that the Victoria Playhouse Petrolia called.

Grassle, well known for her portrayal as Caroline Ingalls on TV's Little House on the Prairie, will play Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond at the playhouse from July 5 to July 24. She will be substituting in for Michael Learned, who played the mother in the television series The Waltons.

She slipped and shattered her arm on the eve of rehearsals, forcing the theater to hunt for someone to fill the role on short notice.

"It's such a lovely play, a wonderful part," Grassle said during a break from rehearsals on Wednesday, and it's one she's never played in her 60 years in the theatre.

"I had everything to learn, which was a huge challenge," she explained.

There wasn't much time to plan a trip from her home in San Francisco to Petrolia for rehearsals, "but I wanted to work it out," she added.

"I was overjoyed that I'd be able to perform in another play.

She turned 80 in February, and because of the epidemic, Grassle was unsure if she had already made her final appearance on stage.

Ernest Thompson's play On Golden Pond premiered on Broadway in 1979 and was adapted into a film in 1981 starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as Ethel and Norman Thayer, an aging couple who spend their summers at a lake house.

Walter Borden, a Stratford Festival veteran and Order of Canada recipient, plays Norman in a cast that Grassle describes as "some very remarkable folks." Kelli Fox, Brian Belleth, Kent Sheridan, and Noah Leonard are among them.

"I think everyone in the audience can relate to this character because she's always trying to make everything pleasant," Grassle said of Ethel Thayer.

"She is concerned about her elderly hubby." It's really all-encompassing."

In the play, Ethel also has a good wit that is "very humorous" and also significant.

"This piece is fantastically written," she exclaimed. "It's been a smash hit for nearly 50 years."

Grassle began acting as a child and subsequently as a student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the early 1960s.

"I dropped out and apprenticed at a theatre in San Francisco, and then I just never looked back," she explained. "I was doing a Shakespeare festival or a contemporary drama festival every summer and just going for it."

She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and she made her Broadway debut in The Gingham Dog in 1969.

She was cast as the mother in the hit American television series Little House on the Prairie in 1974, and she played the role for eight years.

She then worked in television, cinema, and on stage until relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago.

Bright Lights, Prairie Dust, her memoir, was published in November.

When Grassle returned back to the Bay Area, where she grew up, "the memories immediately started to flow."

While she is in Petrolia for rehearsals, her motherland is going through a difficult political and social period, including the recent Supreme Court verdict on abortion.

"We worked so hard for women to have choice," Grassle said, adding that it's vital to remain hopeful.

"We cannot afford to be knocked down, to quit up, or to become disheartened," she remarked.

While Friday is a holiday, Grassle said that opening night is swiftly approaching, so she and the rest of the group will be rehearsing while Petrolia celebrates Canada Day.

She is hopeful, though, that they will be able to schedule a break around the celebrations.

"I'd like to see the procession," she stated

Petrolia is "amazing," she says. "It's very convenient and pleasant."

She started writing things down and joined a writers' circle with individuals from a memoir class she took. They have been meeting for the past 11 years.

"Writing the book was a very healing process for me, and I was able to come to grips with a lot of things in my life," she said of the experience. "It was a true blessing."

After the novel was published, she found how many people adored her Little House on the Prairie character.

"Their hearts were just imprinted with her, and I had no idea," she explained.

Grassle claimed she didn't feel the impact of celebrity while working 12-hour days on the show's eight seasons.

"All I knew was work, eat, sleep," she stated, despite her gratitude for the opportunity.

It's demanding and exhausting, which may explain why so many performers in Hollywood turn to drugs or alcohol for relief, according to Grassle.

"I had my own problems with alcoholism, as did my family, so I inherited that inclination," she explained. "I had to go through that while pretending to be this nice person on TV."

Grassle stated that her celebrity provided her with the ability to be a feminist advocate, and that having that voice was "wonderful."


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