On Golden Pond
by Ernest Thompson
directed by Cameron Watson
through August 28
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 still so vivid in the mind! Well, I'm here to say that the current mounting at the Colony Theatre is of 5 star calibre all the way and not to be missed.
Unlike the movie, the play of course is confined to the interior of the Thayer summer cottage in New Hampshire, but due to John Iacovelli's remarkably detailed set design, Jared A. Sayeg's lighting and Rebecca Kessin's sound design the lake's presence on the other side of the walls is undeniable. It's another character in the play, one that is a constant reminder of our mortality. With summery hats and fishing gear clearly visible, the everpresent sound of the loons and the feel of the mosquitoes, we're in for a summer that most everyone has experienced at one time or another. Somewhere between our teens and old age, we have spent time on a Golden Pond with relatives or friends in a love/hate relationship. Chelsea (Monette Magrath) and her father Norman Thayer, Jr. (Hal Linden) have always been at odds. Ethel, Norman's dutiful wife and Chelsea's supportive and caring mother (Christina Pickles) tries to keep peace. As Norman turns 80, Chelsea makes a rare visit and brings along her newest boyfriend Bill Ray (Jonathan Stewart) and his son Billy (Nicholas Podany), whose newfound bold, aggressive teen angst can only be matched by Norman's bigoted, cantankerous leashing out at life and everyone with whom he comes in contact. But if Norman has become jaded to the ways of life, it only takes a short time with Billy to make him open up and start enjoying life again. 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 just sensational under Cameron Watson's gentle direction. Linden has so much fun with Norman and is sheer joy to watch. I especially like the spry, feisty physical touches, which emerge when least expected. Pickles makes Ethel completely her own creation and Magrath brings out Chelsea's layers of insecurity without ever going over the top. Podany is perky and likeable as Billy. This part was much more fleshed out onscreen, giving Doug McKeon more opportunity to show three dimensions. With the time alloted to him onstage, Podany has a ball. Stewart is quite amusing as well as the older Bill in his jittery, unsteady encounter with Norman. It is perhaps Jerry Kernion who is most memorable as Charlie, the mailman. With his ever so spot-on perfect New England accent, and original laugh, which repeats itself over and over without ever seeming less than genuine, he makes his character funny and down-to-earth, the hard-working guy that is most often put upon, left behind and the last to find love, not worthy of sympathy but surely our appreciation and compassion.
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. I had forgotten just how really funny the play is. Mind games and all, you've got to love Norman Thayer; he's very much an educated Archie Bunker. Thompson is great at capturing a character's internal chaos at any age, and as Norman learns, the best way to face one's golden years is with a wink and a smile. Bravo to Watson and his terrific cast for mounting a production of which Thompson would be immensely proud.