Written by Daniella Litvak
Some plays are designed for the mind. Sometimes it is because the playwright wants to send out a specific message. Other times the goal is to challenge the audience’s beliefs or to get us to think about things from a new perspective. Then there are the plays created for the heart where emotions are the story’s most important element. On Golden Pond definitely falls into the latter category.
On Golden Pond takes place during the forty-eighth summer Norman (Rich Hutchinson) and Ethel (Mary Zolly) Thayer spend at their summer home near the titular body of water. The Thayers have been married for a long time, and Norman in particular is grappling with his mortality. This is not the only conflict the Thayers have to reckon with over the summer because their estranged daughter, Chelsea (Leslie Eisner), is visiting them for the first time in eight years and is bringing guests. What follows is a tale of love, reconciliation, and unlikely friendships.
Something that becomes apparent about the play is its indecisiveness about how it wants to tell its story. It tries to have a plot that is threaded throughout the entire show, but it also wants to be a slice of life, vignette style piece. As a result the show gets off to a slow start, and story developments get a bit muddled because the focus tends to shift from topic to topic, which especially hurts the play’s climax.
A somewhat related issue is the oddness of how the character interactions are structured. The play has a tendency to split the cast, so only two or three characters are onstage at the same time. This keeps each character’s relationship with one another discrete when I wish they would be more intertwined. Also it leads to the characters not interacting with the characters they should be interacting with.
On Golden Pond’s strength is how well the individual moments play out. The credit for this goes to the actors and Tom Scott’s direction. The actors’ delivery and expressions raise up the material and make it comedic and poignant. Hutchinson and Zolly are believable as a loving couple who have been married for a long time. They make Norman and Ethel’s love story sincere and surprisingly tender. Another good moment was when Chelsea made her first appearance and greeted her parents. Eisner’s body language instantly told us what her dynamic with each parent was like. Norman’s conversation with the character of Bill (Darrell Hill) is not too important to the overall story, but it is one of the play’s best scenes.
Something that does distinguish On Golden Pond from other plays is how it uses the telephone. Many plays depict characters talking on the phone. Most of the plays I have seen set it up so the audience only hears what the actor onstage is saying. This is not always a bad technique to deploy, but if it is done badly, one-sided phone conversations become a pretext for monologues and an unnecessary crutch. On Golden Pond allows for the person on the other end of the line to be heard as well, which is a good choice. The comedic calls with the Phone Operator (Ruth Trimble) would not have worked as well without hearing the Operator’s confusion and frustration. And when the phone is used for more non-comedic purposes, the conversations were much more heartwarming because both actors were able to convey their feelings.
Is there anything groundbreaking about On Golden Pond —no. Did it give me warm and fuzzy feelings —yes.
Sidenote: Parking around the Camino Real Playhouse tends to get crowded, so you may want to give yourself some extra time to park.
3/31/2017 to 4/16/2017
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