During intermission at “On Golden Pond”, which zoomdune.com saw Sunday on the OneAmerica Stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre, an audience member was overheard remarking that the play which premiered in 1979 on Broadway “holds up well.”
Written by playwright Ernest Thompson, the play was adapted into a 1981 movie starring Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and his daughter Jane. The play has probably been less seen than the film, but the essential story remains the same except for those added scenes that actually make the story stronger.
Thompson’s timeless, heartwarming drama is set in the present in a house on a lake called Golden Pond, in Maine, where the play’s action takes place over a five month period. It’s a place where cranky Norman Thayer (Robert Elliott) and his long-suffering but loving wife Ethel (Darrie Lawrence) have spent forty summers together. From the onset it becomes clear that the aging Norman, who takes pleasure in playing the curmudgeon, is experiencing memory loss which in turn is causing him to feel depressed. His mood and outlook brightens, however, when likeable and impressionable 13-year old Billy (Griffin Grider) comes to visit. The boy is there because the Thayers’ daughter Chelsea (Constance Macy) who is engaged to Billy’s father Bill Ray (Ryan Artzberger) has brought them to the lake house to introduce them to her parents. Soon it becomes clear that there is tension and awkwardness between Norman and Chelsea, but through Billy’s positive influence there is hope that father and daughter can come to an understanding and accept each other. Offering comic relief is Chelsea’s old boyfriend Charlie Martin (Charlie Clark) who daily delivers the Thayers’ mail by boat, giving him an excuse to be treated to biscuits and coffee by Ethel each time he visits.
The actors’ performances in the production, solidly directed by IRT artistic director Janet Allen, are uniformly effective.
Lawrence is particularly strong as the fussy homemaker and devoted mother Ethel who lives to please her contrary husband and sees through his feigned negativity to love him for the affectionate, endearing man only she knows him to be.
Elliott successfully manages to infuse his disagreeable character, who is difficult to like, with sympathetic qualities, making it possible to feel empathy for Norman rather than view him as simply one-dimensional. Elliott also shows comic skill and skillful timing in delivering all the one liners that make the show so funny. In terms of believability, however, it was difficult to accept that Elliott, who appears much younger, is in his 80s, which according to the script is Norman’s age. As far as chemistry between Elliot’s Norman and Lawrence’s Ethel, there is total credibility.
Grider as naïve Billy, wishing to project adult coolness by spouting such terms as “suck face” and curse words like “bullshit,” revealed a talent and poise that should bring him plenty of success if he decides to pursue a career as an actor.
There simply aren’t enough positives to describe the magic created by scene designer Robert Koharchik and lighting designer Betsy Cooprider-Bernstein in their replication of everyone’s ideal of what a rustic lake house and surrounding environment should look like. Their combined efforts result in a realistic setting, with studied detail, that is quite breathtaking. Enhancing the production’s visual impact is Richard K. Thompson’s mood-setting sound design featuring Bloomington singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer’s poetic, folk-flavored tunes.
Just about anyone who is part of a family unit will identify with the very relatable “On Golden Pond” with its themes of aging, family dynamics, multigenerational differences and the impact of divorce. In terms of its lessons, living in the moment and not taking one’s family for granted are its most obvious.
For tickets and information about Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “On Golden Pond” which continues through May 10, call (317) 635-5252 or visit irtlive.com.
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