Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Theatreworks Presenting An Appealing Production Of On Golden Pond
Also see Richard's review of Jackie Mason: Prune Danish
For its holiday presentation, TheatreWorks is presenting Ernest Thompson's touching and graceful play On Golden Pond, with two of the Bay Area's best known veteran actors, Linda Hoy and George Ward, playing the feisty but deeply loving couple. Director Jules Aaron has surrounded these two talents with some of the top actors in the Bay Area. This is one very charming evening.
On Golden Pond opened on February 28, 1979, at the New Apollo Theatre in New York with Tom Aldridge and Francis Sternhagen as the couple and Barbara Andres as the daughter. It ran 126 performances. After a brief hiatus, the drama reopened at the Century Theatre with the same cast and it ran 424 performances. Universal Studios purchased the rights to the play and the film garnered three Academy Awards, for Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda as the couple and Ernest Thompson winning the Oscar for his screenplay. Just a little over a year ago CBS did a television version with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
On Golden Pond is set in the tranquil days of May through September on a lake in Maine. It is the story of an aging couple, Ethel and Norman Thayer Jr. (Linda Hoy and George Ward), who have been married for 40 years. They are still smitten with each other and Norman is about to have his 80th birthday. Norman is a retired professor and is very cranky. However, deep down he is a very sensitive and shy person who tries to hide these traits with his crankiness and bluster. Ethel is a sweet and supportive woman who is full of life and happy all the time. She is the stabilizing force in family.
Their daughter Chelsea (Nancy Carlin), her fiancé (Michael Keys Hall) and his 13 year old son (Max McClure) are coming to visit the Norman for his birthday. There has always been tension between the father and daughter, and that stress is still there during the visit. Chelsea and fiancé Bill Ray leave young Billy Ray with the elderly couple for one month while they trot off to Europe. Over the course of the summer, resentful Billy and cantankerous Norman form an unlikely bond that exposes the tenderness and longing that lies beneath the surface of Golden Pond.
The acting from this ensemble is superb. It is a pleasure to watch Linda Hoy and George Ward in action again. Both play so well against each other; their timing is impeccable. One great emotional scene is when Norman gets lost and confused while walking home. He tells Ethel what happened, and this brings out the struggle of George and Ethel's fears about the perils of aging while Ethel tries at the same time to give comfort to George. It is a very touching scene.
Nancy Carlin is very competent as the headstrong Chelsea. When Michael Keys Hall has his one big scene in the first act with George, he more than handles his own with the veteran actor. Max McClure is a real find as 13 year old Billy Ray. He has good acting chops for such a young boy. Rounding out the cast is popular actor Howard Swain, who plays the ex-boyfriend and mailman with the funny laugh. He provides the farcical bits of this comedy drama and he is nice foil to Norman's concentration.
Jules Aaron has done a super job in directing this production and the set design by Tom Langguth is outstanding with great detail given to the summer home of the Thayers. The details even go down past the front part of the stage to give the audience a summer at the lake feeling.
On Golden Pond endures because the audience sees their mothers and fathers and even themselves with all the passions, fears, hopes and follies that make up our less then perfect lives. The play uses humor to help us all take ourselves less seriously. The drama runs through January 5, 2003, at the Lucie Stern Theatre. 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets can be obtained by calling 650-903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org. The next production will be the West Coast Premiere of Langford Wilson's Book of Days which opens on January 15.