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On Golden Pond

a Comedy
by Ernest Thompson

COMPANY : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre in the Square [WEBSITE]
ID# 4101

SHOWING : August 10, 2011 - September 11, 2011



This was Theatre in the Square’s opening show in 1982. A
couple returns for the 40th year to the embracing warmth of their beloved home in the Maine woods with its Golden Pond and melodic loons. This time out there’s a new guest – a flippant 13-year-old boy about to teach them a thing or two and learn a few things himself.

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by playgoer
Monday, September 5, 2011
"On Golden Pond" is an entertaining, sentimental play that doesn't have a lot of intellectual depth. We see the start and end of an annual summer vacation undertaken by cantankerous Norman Thayer and his wife Ethel to their cabin on a lake in Maine. There are a couple of small emotional connections in the show, between Norman and his estranged daughter Chelsea and between Norman and Chelsea's step-son-to-be, Billy. Mostly, though, the play lets us see ordinary moments, all enlivened by quips arising from Norman's crusty ill-temper. The play captures an audience in its spell though these moments. Norman probably isn't someone we'd like to encounter in real life, but the small softenings we see in him over the course of the play give us the opportunity to know him better than we ever would in real life.

In Peter Thomasson, Theatre in the Square gives us a Norman who is perhaps in too good a shape for a man who turns 80 during the course of the play, but he thoroughly embodies the character. His is a performance to remember. There are enough layers and enough variety in his reactions to let us know he is more vulnerable at times than he lets on, and to clue us in that his outrageous statements are often uttered simply to obtain a reaction. There is nothing cheap in his performance. There is lots of humor, but it all comes honestly.

Judy Leavell is a wonderful fit as his wife. She is energetic, in contrast to his more leisurely and ginger movements, and fully convinces the audience that she has known and loved this man for years. The chemistry between the two of them is palpable.

The other characters all appear in supporting roles. Bart Hansard makes a big impression as local mail delivery person Charlie Martin, his booming laugh carrying Ethel (and the audience) into responding gales of laughter. Agnes Lucinda Harty, as daughter Chelsea, lets us see the chip on her shoulder and her extreme effort in dealing with her father in an adult manner. Charles Horton impressed me more than any other Bill Ray I have seen, portraying chelsea's boyfriend in a way that made me believe his California psychobabble was sincere. His performance was subtle and nuanced, with no touch of the buffoon, as can be the case with the role. His son Billy is double-cast in this production, and I am sure both young men give fine portrayals of a high-spirited 13-year-old.

In technical terms, the show works well. Bradley Bergeron's lighting has dappled effects at a fourth-wall bay window and evening effects in the backdrop sky, making for some very pleasing stage pictures. Sound too is terrific. Thom Jenkins' design lets us hear sounds at the dock, outside of the bay window, in one case moving seamlessly from the voices of people exiting stage right around the house to those same people at the dock. The sound lets the audience truly feel that a real place is being portrayed.

There were technical elements I disliked. Seamus M. Bourne's set design is not well structured. A high hearth and low bookcases stage right conspire with an abbreviated, angled stone chimney to make the cabin look squat and misproportioned. The numerous levels of the stage gave Norman numerous chances to show age in his movements, but the lack of railings on the stairways doesn't seem particularly realistic. The arrangement of doors is also peculiar, having a screen door and French doors side by side, with a kitchen door squeezed into a triangular spot stage left. The horizon line of the pond upstage is an unvaried horizontal line, making the supposed continuation of the pond around in front difficult to imagine. Clustered tree silhouettes stage left and right add to the confusion, since views of the pond are otherwise unobstructed. The varied roof lines at the top of the set do not work at all, contradicted by an unrelievedly horizontal flat at the top of the stairs. The set decorations also seemed to be off, with what looked to be a partial encyclopedia set in one bookcase and photos all over the walls that seemed to bear little relationship to life on Golden Pond.

I'm not sure how good Heidi Cline McKerley's direction is. There was one bit with Charlie Martin frantically masticating biscuit at the breakfast table that came across as forced and artificial, but otherwise interactions seemed pretty natural, as if the actors had been given the liberty to discover them on their own. Kathleen McManus' dialect coaching seems to have been a bit of a waste. Norman had been a professor in Pennsylvania for many years and Chelsea has been on the West Coast, so there's no particular need for them to sound as strongly Maine-like as lifelong native Charlie Martin. In fact, their accents often seem stronger and more secure.

The set doesn't detract enough from the action onstage to be more than a nuisance. The play's the thing, after all, and Theatre in the Square's production lets the play shine through, with all its quiet pleasures intact. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Still Life With Old Poop
by Dedalus
Friday, August 26, 2011
To open its landmark 30th Season, Marietta’s Theatre in the Square has gone back to its roots, giving a new production of its very first play, Ernest Thompson’s sweet and popular “On Golden Pond.” I’ve liked this play since I first read it decades ago, enjoyed the movie version, and even worked on a production in my pre-Atlanta days. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it (since I’ve relaxed with the loons, so to speak), and I was anticipating this production as if it were a return trip to a favorite vacation spot.

True to my expectations, I found a production that was a comfortable retelling of a familiar story, a return visit to some pleasant characters to while away a hot summer evening. This time, though, there were a couple of problems that dampened the evening, almost as much as a sudden rainstorm mucks up a refreshing mountain hike.

But first, since this play is not as often produced as once it was, let me recap the plot. Norman and Ethel Thayer are beginning the summer as they have for the past umpteen decades of their marriage – retreating to their quiet Maine retreat along the shores of Golden Pond. Their daughter Chelsea soon arrives with her current beau (“Bill Ray”) and his young son (“Billy”). When, Chelsea and Bill Ray escape for a romantic European “pre-Honeymoon,” leaving Billy behind, Norman and Thayer find themselves dusting off their rusty parenting skills and dealing with an empty nest that’s not so empty any more.

However, all this is just a pretext for a tackle-box full of casual conversations, vents built on old resentments, gentle ruminations on parenthood and spousehood, and not a few reminiscences, both pleasant and not-so. The family dynamics are fairly straightforward, but the characters are all sharply defined and the dialog sharp and sassy.

So, what’s not to like about this warm puppy of a play?

My biggest objection here is the design of the set. At first glance, it is a beautifully rendered cabin retreat, a multi-leveled getaway backed by a well-done painting of Golden Pond itself. Wide French doors along the back keep the backdrop in constant view. The whole thing is almost breathtaking in its beauty and in its seeming “rightness” for the setting, often dressed in technical wizardry that takes it from sunny splendor, to sunset stillness to stormy foggery.

Let’s pause for a moment, though. French Doors on a lakeside cabin? Perhaps. But, a significant plot point is a screen door in need of repair. Does it make logistical sense to place said screen door beside a set of French doors, than watch people pass by the usable doors only to complain about the broken screen door beside it? Not so much!

In addition to that, at a number of points throughout, the characters refer to windows along the fourth wall looking out on the lake. This would mean the house must be on a peninsula jutting into the lake, and be only about a dozen feet wide, something that doesn’t make logistical sense. My sense was that the entire design focused on that beautiful backdrop, almost underscoring the still-life painted-on whitecaps that distract with their obvious artificiality.

But, on the other hand, this cast is (almost) uniformly excellent, imbuing these characters with personality and surprise. Peter Thomasson and Judy Leavell, though too young for the roles, nevertheless carry the ages naturally. More to the point, they come across as a couple, as two people for whom the honeymoon never really ended, and who know each other better than themselves. I loved every moment they were on stage (which, truth to tell, is most of the play). Young Elijah Marcano (**) was also wonderful as Billy, showing a perfect combination of pre-teen disdain and innocence. Charles Horton is fine as Bill Ray and Bart Hansard does his usual comic unusual as local postman/handyman Charlie.

I also liked Agnes Lucinda Harty’s Chelsea, with one exception. When she has her venting moment in Act Two, it comes across as too angst-in-the-treetops over-the-top, totally out of proportion to its instigation (lingering resentment and jealousy over how Norman has quickly bonded with Billy). I always saw the scene as an “after tremor,” a further expression of anger that had long since been moved to the “back burner” (and, indeed, that’s how it was played in the movie). Here, it comes across a pressure cooker at the bursting point, as if the fire is still on high. Whether my interpretation of the scene is correct or not, the effect is of a spoiled, still-adolescent girl whose description of her father is totally out-of-synch to the crotchety but loveable eccentric we’ve been watching all evening.

Still, when all is said and done, this is a welcome revival of a well-liked play, a chance to visit characters and relax with them by the shores of a favorite lake. If the play has always been the theatrical equivalent of a still-life watercolor (and if the tableau backdrop makes it even more so), what of that? It makes its simple points gently and easily, then lets us relax, kick back, and bask in the company of these characters.

And, I’d be an old poop indeed if I let a few quibbles ruin the vacation!

-- Brad Rudy (

(**) Young Mr. Marcano will be alternating with Charlie Garland in this role. 


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