Every man should be so lucky to have a cheerful, energetic wife to support him when his mind and body begin to fail. “On Golden Pond” is a placid story that points out the value of strong, committed marriage with a deep undercurrent about the value of life, loved ones and mending fences before it’s too late, as the sunset years approach.
The story, written by Ernest Thompson, is set in 1979 as an elderly couple, the humorously cantankerous Norman Thayer (Hal Linden) and his vivacious wife, Ethel (Christina Pickles), have returned to Golden Pond for what might be one of their last summers together on the lake.
Ethel is trying unsuccessfully to lift Norman out of his growing depression by pointing out all the small, beautiful things he is taking for granted. As Norman’s 80th birthday approaches, the couple are joined by their middle-aged resentful daughter Chelsea (Monette Magrath), who has a chip on her shoulder due to her distant relationship with her father, and she reverts to an angry child as soon as she crosses the threshold.
Ethel is happily surprised Chelsea has finally come for a visit after many years of avoidance, but the reason is evident when she shows up with her neurotic boyfriend (Jonathan Stewart) and his son (Nicholas Podany), whom she wants to drop off for the summer with her parents so she can enjoy a romantic trip to Europe.
There is plenty of comic relief with great dialogue, on-target direction from Cameron Watson and pitch-perfect performances from the entire cast. Chelsea’s ex-boyfriend, mailman Charlie Martin (Jerry Kernion), was enjoyable with his entertaining accent and a remarkable laugh. Thankfully, just as it began to wear thin, the laugh was toned down.
Linden and Pickles have razor-sharp comedic timing and seasoned acting chops that made the somewhat predictable story fun to watch, as it unfolded like the dust covers on the furniture in the cabin. Pickles showed her range when her character’s cheerful demeanor turned ferocious in a scene with Chelsea, which displayed her deep loyalty to her husband, even while empathizing with her daughter.
The lovable Linden was appropriately tired, grouchy and sarcastic before his unexpected young protégé awakened his zest for fishing and teaching, which was palpable. Later the two bonded and the boy became the son he always wanted, further infuriating his daughter upon her return as a successfully engaged woman.
There is a hilarious scene as Norman joyfully watches Bill squirm when he nervously asks if he can sleep with Chelsea while staying at the cabin. There are classic heartwarming moments between Charlie and Chelsea that remind us that examining simple memories can both cut and comfort.
Although probably unfair to compare to the iconic movie starring Jane Fonda and her father Henry Fonda, I did miss the evolution of the relationship between Billy Ray Jr. and Norman topped off with the boating accident that was a pivotal moment in the story of the film.
In the play, Billy Ray Jr. (Nicholas Podany) lights up the stage with a great performance, but is perhaps too respectful from the beginning to adequately develop the monumental nature of the warm relationship he and Norman achieve, which is key to Chelsea’s jealousy, surrender and ultimate healing.
The set was impressive and dressed perfectly to bring the audience right into the cabin by the lake, right down to the rickety screen door and the fishing poles next to Norman’s array of sporty hats. I was a bit distracted by the outfit Chelsea wore in act two, wondering if a woman “who is in charge of Los Angeles,” even in the ‘70s, would wear the polyester wrap skirt, but after speaking to costume designer Terri E. Lewis, I’m satisfied that a lot of thought was put into the choice.
This is a great play for your parents or middle-aged spouse to remember that having a solid marriage and a loyal partner is a real benefit, if you’re lucky enough to see 80.
Cassandra M. Bellantoni is a Los Angeles freelance reporter, producer, video editor and featured front-page blogger on Huffington Post. She is also a former chef, restaurant owner and breast cancer survivor. Follow her on Twitter @StarShineSpeaks or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: “On Golden Pond” by Ernest Thompson
Where: The Colony Theatre Company, 555 N. Third St., Burbank, adjacent to the Burbank Town Center
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 28; question-and-answer talk-back with the cast after performance on Friday, Aug. 5, and Thursday, Aug. 18.
Tickets: $20 to $42 (student, senior and group discounts available)
Contact: (818) 558-7000 or visit www.colonytheatre.org