Last night, we took a brief sojurn to Maine, to revisit a pond we had seen 18 months ago. I’m happy to report that the pond is in good shape, inhabited by the same lovable and crotchety characters as always. Of course, I’m talking about the play “On Golden Pond“, which we saw last night at The Colony Theatre in Burbank.
For those that don’t remember the story of “On Golden Pond”, here’s how I recapped it back in March 2010: The play takes place at a fictional location (Golden Pond) in Maine, where Norman and Ethel Thayer have a summer cottage they visit every year. The play takes place during their 48th visit in 1979, and takes place over the summer. It starts in May, when the couple arrive and open the cottage. We see how Ethel is full of life, but Norman is crotchety and feeling his mortality. By June, they have settled into the cottage. Norman is looking for a job, but it is clear he is losing his faculties and is starting to have what we now know is Altzheimers. We learn about the locals, including Charlie Martin, who brings news that their daughter, Chelsea, will be arriving later that summer with her boyfriend. In July, Chelsea arrives with her boyfriend Bill and his 14-year-old son, Billy. We learn about the love between mother and daughter, but the tension between Norman and Chelsea. Ethel convinces Norman to let the boy, Billy, stay with them while Chelsea and Bill go to Europe. Act 2 opens in August, where Billy and Norman have become fishing buddies. Chelsea returns, and reveals that she and Bill got married in Brussels, while going on and on about the past. Ethel grows impatient with this, especially with Chelsea’s dispute with her father. After a butting of heads, Chelsea and her father reconcile to an extent. The last scene of the play takes place in September as Norman and Ethel are closing up the cottage. Chelsea calls and invites her parents to visit her in California. Ethel is eager, but Norman is reluctant to go… until he realizes he can spend time with Billy.
What makes a play such as this is the casting and direction. In March 2010, we had the REP East production: no headliners, but wonderful acting and wonderful direction. At Colony, we’ve got headliners, and with equally strong casting and direction. Headlining the Colony production were Hal Linden as Norman Thayer and Christina Pickles as Ethel Thayer. Both were excellent. Mr. Linden, who is a wonderful actor, is just about the right age to play the part, and he captured the old man so well. He did not emphasize less the “New England” aspect as you often see; instead, he captured an elderly man who gets his joy from verbally sparring (not fighting) with people. It was the little things in his performance, such as the shaking hands and the seeming ad-libs. He was having fun with the role. As his “better half”, Ms. Pickles held her own quite well, coming off as grandmotherly, caring, but dotty in her own way. You could see that these two loved each other deeply and had adapted to each others peculiarities. The director, Cameron Watson, is to be commended for bringing out such a nuanced performance from these two leads.
Of course, the story of “On Golden Pond” is not the story of Norman and Ethel, but the story of the interaction of these two with the rest of their family. As their daughter, Chelsea, Monette Magrath was playful and delightful, yet with a spirit underneath that made her fun to watch. Perhaps due to the actress (or my perspective), she came across as a little younger than 42 (the age in the script), but that didn’t hurt. As Billy Ray, Nicholas Podany made a good foil for Norman and played the catalyst for finding the child in Norman well. Jerry Kernion had an infectious laugh and personality as Charlie Martin, and Jonathan Stewart embodied the nervous Bill Ray well.
[All actors are members of Actors Equity ]
Technically, the product exhibited the usual excellence we expect at the Colony. Scenic Design was by John Iacovelli, who made a wonderful rustic Maine lodge, with the usual eclectic set of properties and set dressing artifacts from MacAndME. Costumes were by Terri A. Lewis and were appropriately period. Lighting design was by Jared A. Sayeg, and sound was by Rebecca Kessin—both were so natural that neither called attention to themselves. Alexander Berger was production stage manager.
“On Golden Pond” continues at The Colony Theatre until August 28. Tickets are available through the Colony Website.
A side note: I did take the opportunity to go up to Mr. Linden after the show and thank him. After all, the first live theatre I saw was “The Rothschilds“, starring Mr. Linden, at the LA Civic Light Opera in 1972… it started the love of live theatre for me that has continued to this day.
Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Our theatre calendar gets lighter for a while, although I do have some shows to book. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, and “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22. October will also hopefully bring “The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.