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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

On Golden Pond
Palm Beach Dramaworks
Review by Jeffrey Bruce | Season Schedule

Also see Jeffrey's review of Tosca

Pat Bowie and John Felix
Photo by Samantha Mighdoll
Palm Beach Dramaworks has opened a charming if uneven production of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond. Having viewed the early press performance, I am positive the lapses, missing dialogue, too long pauses, and overlong scene changes will be perfected with each subsequent performance.

I imagine that most are familiar with the film starring the late Heny Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. Norman and Ethel Thayer are spending their 48th summer at Golden Pond in Vermont. An interesting pair, Norman the curmudgeon, Ethel the beautiful charmer, they have a relaxed, teasing and effortless comfort with each other that only 48 years can nurture. Into the mix arrives their daughter, Chelsea, a divorcee who announces that she is seeing a dentist named Bill Ray.

While there is much love evident between daughter and mother, there is, to put it mildly, a straining distance—bordering on animosity—between daughter and dad. The tragic line that says paragraphs, is when, confronted by Chelsea, Norman admits "I didn't think we were mad; I just thought we didn't like each other." Norman has shown signs of homophobia as well as anti-Semitism, and what makes this line even more effective in this production is the fact that both Ethel and Chelsea are played by African-American actresses. This unique balance adds gravitas and emotion to a plot that can seem too pat and predicable.

Those three characters are the heart of the play and one needs top performers to make the evening interesting. Luckily, Dramaworks has John Felix as Norman. Felix, who entered the rehearsal process one week late replacing the originally cast actor, owns the production. One can hardly imagine the challenges faced by director Paul Stancato in a last-minute replacement situation. With Felix, he has a star to fill Norman's fishing boots. Aggravated, loving, confused, (very) funny, or irascible, Felix can convey more emotion with a hangdog expression than most. Highly experienced, he is perfect in his dialogue and pacing. The lovely Pat Bowie, so good in A Raisin in the Sun and Doubt in recent years, was having a bit of trouble with her lines at the performance I attended, but her warmth and energy were evident and infectious. Karen Stephens, a superb actress, has the toughest role, as Chelsea, who can can be supremely unlikeable. But Stephens manages to have the audience on her side from her first entrance. A roller coaster of a part, she loves her mom, is confused and frustrated by her dad, and is madly in love with Bill Ray, whom she eventually marries and inherits his teenage son, as well. Brava, Ms. Stephens!

The supporting roles are well written and well played. As Bill, Jim Ballard, one of South Florida's premiere leading men, is goofy, amiable and, ultimately, very smart, as Bill. Casey Butler plays Bill's smart-ass son Billy, who develops a relationship that only a young boy can have with his grandfather with a professionalism beyond his actual 15 years. Lastly, Paul Tei is Charlie Martin, Golden Pond's mail deliverer, who has been in love with Chelsea all these years but is, when confronted with (finally) losing her to Bill, both good-natured and a good sport.

Technically, the sound, designed by Brad Pawlak, is flawless. The scenic design by Bill Clarke is beautiful and realistically representative of a rustic, lived-in summer house. Subtle lighting by Donald Edmund Thomas represents the passages of time artfully.

The color-blind casting adds excitement and interest to a play that, in lesser hands, could be a bit lethargic. See for yourself how, in the proper hands: On Golden Pond can be a warm and humorous evening of theatre.

On Golden Pond , through February 25th, 2018, at Palm Beach Dramaworks located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach FL. For tickets, call 561-514-4042 or visit

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