On Golden Pond/by Ernest Thompson/directed by Gloria Gifford/Glendale Centre Theatre/through August 11
Hardly an easy task to successfully mount Ernest Thompson's heartwarming and funny On Golden Pond, with the 1980 film starring Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda so vivid in the mind! Well, the current mounting at Glendale Centre Theatre, despite a few cracks here and there, is indeed a mostly golden endeavor.
Unlike the movie, the play of course is confined to the interior of the Thayer summer cottage in Maine, but the lake is definitely a presence, right outside and becomes another character in the play, one that is a constant reminder of mortality. With summery hats and fishing gear clearly visible, the sound of the loons and the feel of mosquitoes, we're in for a summer that most everyone has experienced at one time or another. Somewhere between our teen years and old age, we have spent obligatory time with relatives or friends in a love/hate relationship. Chelsea (Brenda Dietlein) and her father Norman Thayer, Jr. (Andrew Prine) have always been at odds. Ethel, Norman's dutiful wife and Chelsea's supportive and caring mother (Salome Jens) acts as referee. As Norman turns 80, Chelsea makes a rare visit and brings along her newest boyfriend Bill Ray (Blake Boyd) and his son Billy (Adam Simon Krist), whose newfound bold, aggressive teen angst can only be matched by Norman's bigoted, consistently disagreeable attitude. But if Norman has become jaded, it only takes a short time with Billy to make him open up and live again. Yes, old age and dying are at the core of the piece, but Thompson's incisively funny dialogue, which comes totally out of character, makes one care less about aging and more about living.
The cast is uniformly terrific guided by Gloria Gifford's mild, loving hand. Prine seems a natural for feisty Norman and plays it with conviction, intelligence and an innate sense of fun. Jens, a consistently divine actress, was a bit off at the matinee I attended, but I was told she was performing with an injured foot.Trouper that she is, even though her movements were slow, she followed through gloriously, making Ethel's warmth and gentle nature ring with truth. Dietlein is affable as Chelsea, but rather underplays the pain and distress of her relationship with Norman. Krist is a real find as Billy. He paints a portrait of a teen to be reckoned with, yet likeable. Boyd is perfectly nervous and insecure as the older Bill in his jittery, unsteady encounter with Norman. Bill Stevenson completes the ensemble as Charlie, the mailman and exudes quite nicely the typically quaint New England charm.
I love On Golden Pond and Ernest Thompson's gritty New England sense of humor. As he once remarked, the characters are not his family, but they could be. And they are so terribly amusing! Gifford has staged the piece sturdily with smooth pacing and her cast deliver. On Golden Pond is the perfect summer treat.