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Ralph Buonocore plays Bill Ray in Saybrook Stage Company's upcoming theater rendition of On Golden Pond from Thursday, Jan. 16 through Sunday, Jan. 19 at The Kate, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook. Ralph intends to pursue his passion in the performing arts as much as he possibly can. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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When Ralph Buonocore had two separate opportunities to work as an extra in Hollywood movies starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, he did what any aspiring actor would do. He signed up for both movies and eagerly showed up when he was chosen.
But, as he relates with good humor, neither one turned out the way he had hoped.
For the 2012 movie Hope Springs, which was filmed in Stonington, Ralph sat at a bar waiting for the scene to be shot, when Streep unexpectedly sat beside him. The encounter was so abrupt, it caught him completely off guard.
“All of a sudden—I’m not even paying attention—somebody sits down next to me and I turn—no lie—this close, and it’s Meryl Streep. And of course, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Ralph recalls.
He also remembers the actress striking up a conversation with him shortly before the bar scene was shot.
When the filming was over and the movie was released, Ralph bought a ticket and watched it with anticipation. To his dismay, the scene inside the bar was edited out.
“They never showed the inside. That’s where I am,” he says, adding with laughter, “So, of course, they cut the whole thing out. They cut it on the cutting room floor so I can’t prove it, but I’m telling you it happened.”
In the 1988 film Mystic Pizza, Ralph fares a bit better as an extra.
Named after the shoreline Connecticut town, Mystic Pizza is also known as the film that gave Roberts her first critically favorable reviews as a movie actress.
This time, Ralph has a part in the movie.
“Yes, you can see me in a scene. So, I’m sitting [and] I wore a bright red sweater. And if you don’t blink or sneeze, you’ll see [me],” he says.
Small movie parts notwithstanding, acting always gave Ralph a sense of fulfillment since he first took to the stage in 8th grade during a summer theater program with a junior version of My Fair Lady. His first play was his first lead role, portraying Henry Higgins, the phonetics professor who trains Eliza Doolittle to speak and act like an upper-class lady.
“I remember listening and learning all the lyrics and [was] just very excited about doing the show,” he says.
He continued to cultivate his interest in the performing arts and joined the drama club at Notre Dame High School in West Haven where he joined the cast of Li’l Abner as Pappy Yokum.
“It was funny because when I went [to Notre Dame], the program was sort of waning. And so, my class had people who were interested in the arts and things and we sort of started to help bring back the whole idea of theater in the high school and musicals and things like that,” he says.
His other credits include the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret, produced by the Talent Hut Players in 2009; Felix in The Odd Couple, produced by The Orange Players in 2015; and Martini in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, produced by the New Haven Theater Company in 2019.
All his experience prepared him to audition for the upcoming production of On Golden Pond at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.
Presented by the Saybrook Stage Company, the theater rendition of On Golden Pond honors Katharine Hepburn’s acting career and coincides with The Kate’s 10th year celebration. The screenplay is written by Ernest Thompson and originally starred Henry Fonda and Hepburn in the lead roles of retired professor Norman Thayer and his wife, Ethel, in the 1981 movie. The film earned for Fonda and Hepburn the Academy Award for Best Actor and Actress, respectively. The movie also starred Fonda’s real-life daughter, Jane, as Norman’s daughter, Chelsea.
For the stage production of On Golden Pond, Ralph portrays Bill Ray, Chelsea’s fiancé and father of 13-year old Billy Ray who begins to enjoy fishing on the pond and develops a close relationship with Norman.
Along with Ralph, the play stars Jim Hile (Norman Thayer), Terri Corigliano (Ethel Thayer), Amy Kirby (Chelsea Thayer), Mark Gilchrist (Charlie Martin), and Jake Totten (Billy Ray).
On Golden Pond plays at The Kate, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook, for four days: Thursday, Jan. 16 and Friday, Jan. 17 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 18 at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. For more information or tickets, call 860-510-0453 or visit www.thekate.org.
“It would be great to do the show, and it’s a great space. I’ve never been there [to perform] and I’m very excited to be in The Kate,” Ralph says.
He also relates trying out for the role during the second round of auditions last November.
“A lot of the stuff that I had done was in community theater, schools, [and] little spaces,” he explains. “Now, this is a legit [place], this is a theater. So, it can be a bit intimidating, and when I went for the audition, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, should I run out the door and just go home?’”
He also recalls, “I was so nervous when I left that I took the script. I took the pages with me—the script that they had—and I got home and I said, ‘Oh my God, I stole their script.’ So, I texted them and I said, ‘I’m so sorry. I’ll return this.’”
To his relief, he was told to keep the script.
“So maybe it was just, you know, foreshadowing,” he says with dramatic flair and laughs.
He also explains some of the beliefs and practices actors do backstage.
“There are things you don’t do [like] whistle behind stage…That’s bad luck,” he explains, adding, “And you know, you can’t mention certain Shakespearean plays.”
And yes, actors still say to each other, “Break a leg!” before a performance.
But plays are not Ralph’s only passion. His love for the performing arts includes musicals. He sings tenor and uses his talent to perform on the side for weddings and funerals.
Lately, his inclination has been toward more complex roles in more dramatic plays. He recently auditioned for Madison Lyric Stage’s upcoming production of The Boys in the Band and Sweeney Todd.
A longtime Madison resident with his family, Ralph is gratified that his wife, Patty, and their children, Paige, Brooke, and Alex, support his interest in acting.
He is also grateful that his job in sales at a health advocate company allows him to work from home and balance his professional job with his love for performing. Although acting has not been his professional career, Ralph intends to pursue it as a passion and spend as much time performing as he possibly can.
“You know, you should never let go of anything that gives you joy,” he says. “It remains a part of you so you need to stay involved, have that outlet, have that part of you that can express yourself in whatever way makes you feel good.”
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