Sunday, November 17, 2002

On Golden Pond (Cleveland Play House)

Selection of 'ON GOLDEN POND' at CPH questioned

Ernest Thompson’s ON GOLDEN POND is a play about aging, love, family and forgiveness. It was an instant hit when it opened on Broadway in 1979. The 1981 film version won Academy Awards for Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn. The present Cleveland Play House’s production is entertaining, eliciting laughs and some tears from the audience.

Why did CPH chose a show that is one of the most-oft done plays on the amateur theatre circuit? According to the show’s program Artistic Director Peter Hackett indicates that he chose it because the Associate Directors of Monomoy Theatre, Mike Hartman and Darrie Lawrence, where Hackett saw the show in the summer of 2000, were available to do the show at CPH. He indicates that he is delighted that they are reprising their roles. There are many in the local theatre community who question whether CPH, which proposes to be a major US professional theatre, should be produce such shows rather than stretching itself by appealing to younger audiences and doing more challenging scripts. That controversy withstanding, ON GOLDEN POND is appearing at CPH and needs to be reviewed.

ON GOLDEN POND centers on two elderly people, Norman and Ethel Thayer, returning for their 48th year to their summer home on Golden Pond in Maine. He has heart palpitations, failing memory and a caustic tongue. Chelsea, their emotionally distant adult-daughter comes to visit along with her “boy friend” Bill and Billy, his 13 year old son by a previous marriage. Billy stays behind as Chelsea and Bill go off to Europe on what turns out to be their honeymoon. We see a transformation in both Norman and Billy as they bond together. The summer ends. The Thayer’s are about to leave when Norman has an angina attack. Will they ever return to Golden Pond?

Carol Dunne’s direction is basically on-key. Mike Hartman is wonderfully endearing as Norman. Darrie Lawrence is fine as Ethel. Kate Levy does well as their daughter. Young Adam Siciliano doesn’t quite allow us to see the transition from a kid ripped apart by divorce who transforms before our eyes into a nice young man under the loving guidance of the irascible Norman. Bill Clarke has created an attractive and functional set. Those who attend ON GOLDEN POND will enjoy themselves.

Capsule judgement: Though a questionable choice for a theatre of the professional caliber, the production is quite effective.