After 66 years, he continues to direct and call the shots at the venerable playhouse, despite rumors that it's about to be sold.
For now, the Old Log is still Don Stolz's theater -- as it has been for 66 years. A visit to his small office in the rambling and rustic theater near the shores of Lake Minnetonka found the 94-year-old Stolz getting ready to stage "A Perfect Wedding," a farce that opens Sept. 6.
The play by Robin Hawdon starts with a man who finds a woman in his bed on the morning of his wedding. Wackiness ensues. In other words, it's pitch-perfect for Old Log audiences.
"We've got a very good cast," Stolz said matter-of-factly, "and we anticipate a strong fall and winter."
Stolz's future with the Old Log became a public guessing game last winter, when he and developer Jon Monson showed off a proposal to redo the 11-acre property in suburban Greenwood. Stolz and Monson both said at the time that a sale was not imminent and that their appearance at a meeting of the Greenwood City Council was only to explore the idea of rezoning the land.
The City Council determined there was not an urgent reason (such as a purchase agreement) to pursue the rezoning question, and Mayor Deb Kind said recently "there's nothing new" to report on the theater.
Stolz said the other day that it might be possible for him to allow a development of small cottages on the property and still keep the land. He didn't offer specifics.
The Stolz/Monson proposal was not the only development that fed speculation about a possible sale. Stolz's age and health issues in the past few years have fueled the rumors. That, and the fact that four of his sons who still work at the Old Log are either at or nearing retirement.
In April, officials from the Three Rivers Park District said they were discussing vague ideas about maintaining the theater but using the land for environmental education. Jason McGrew-King, a spokesman for the District, said last week that although conversations are continuing with theater representatives, there "isn't anything new to report about the Old Log at this point."
Offer on the table
Stolz admitted last week that he and the family have an offer from Greg Frankenfield, CEO and co-founder of the technology business Magenic. Frankenfield lives in Shorewood and is a theater enthusiast who has acted at Minnetonka Theatre and served on the board of Mixed Blood. In 2009, he made a bid for Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Frankenfield said last week that he gave the Stolzes a proposal about six weeks ago and that it was "better received" than an offer he made last year.
Asked whether he's considering the offer, Stolz took a long time and then measured his words carefully.
"I don't want to say anything negative," he finally said. "But I think we're hoping for a better offer -- when we're ready to sell."
And that is the key, say several people with knowledge of the Old Log situation: Stolz's willingness to part with the theater is more significant than a specific offer. He has worked at the Old Log since 1941 and the relationship is nothing less than mythic -- an intractable part of his identity.
"The impression I get is that Don is just not ready to sell," said Frankenfield, who added that he has not attached a deadline to his proposal.
The Old Log still looks like a frontier village plopped onto a grassy Minnetonka Eden. The big wooden beams in Herb Bloomberg's building design exhale a friendly, rustic aroma. The dining room, with its white tablecloths and rows of pane-glass windows, looks like the set of "Holiday Inn." Indeed, one almost expects Bing Crosby or Rosemary Clooney to stride into the room at any moment.
Stolz's production of "The Fox on the Fairway," which finishes its run Saturday, bears his familiar stamp of friendly comedy and brisk pace. Jon Stolz's elegant but functional set design allows for no fewer than nine slamming doors in the first three minutes.
Regulars James Cada, Susanne Egli, Steve Shaffer and Peggy O'Connell give excellent performances, and Joseph Papke, usually a downtown actor with great Shakespeare chops, has picked up the broad Stolz style as the gangly young hero. Papke will be back for "A Perfect Wedding."
Stolz comes to work every day and still does evening curtain speeches. Son Dony picks him up at an assisted-living community in Chanhassen and drives him to the theater.
"I don't miss driving, but I miss the independence," the elder Stolz said.
"The Fox on the Fairway" didn't meet its projections, but that doesn't dim his optimism for "A Perfect Wedding."
"Theater is always an up-and-down business," Stolz said. "And theater uses up money in a hurry. There's a thousand dollars a week for real estate taxes, a thousand for each actor, a thousand for royalties. It adds up."
Tim Stolz, Don's son, said that in the past 10 years, the owners have fielded interest about the property from several people.
"Financially, we haven't had an offer that compels us to consider selling," Tim Stolz said. "So we're continuing on and we've got a new show coming up."
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299