In September of 1982, Theatre in the Square opened their first season with Ernest Thompson’s play On Golden Pond, and now, in celebration of their 30th anniversary season, the theater is opening a season with it again. Over the years, the theater has provided the community with wonderful productions. This production continues to provide the same attention to high-production values and quality talent.
Set in a summer home along the shores of Maine’s Golden Pond, the play examines the relationship between an elderly couple as they come to grips with aging and their relationship with their daughter. Under the skillful direction of Heidi Cline McKerley, the clever cast takes a thinly-written, yet moving, script and rises above it to create an enthralling and touching production. In the role of the curmudgeon Norman, Peter Thomasson shines, and Judy Leavell as Ethel offers the ideal balance to his antagonism.
With zingers and witty dialogue, Thomasson draws laughs as the cranky old man who has a soft side hidden underneath the callousness. Likewise, Leavell’s understated interpretation of Ethel gives the play its heart as she playfully banters with Thomasson and delivers an equally acerbic tone to match his when needed. Perfectly cast, it is hard to image anyone else playing these characters. Each one delivers a stellar, inspiring performance.
One of the most heart-breaking scenes is the tender moments between Norman and Ethel at the end of the play. As cliché as it may sound, I felt as though I were watching a couple that had spent 40 summers together declare their love for one another as they realize they could actually lose each other. Watching them embrace, seeing the real fear on their faces moved the audience. The talented portrayal of the scene left the viewers stunned, a few in tears.
As the daughter Chelsea, Agnes Lucinda Harty takes a lackluster and poorly written role and turns it into something worth watching. The scene where she reconciles with her father showcases her ability to stir emotion and compete with the other actors on stage. While the scene fails to pick up steam, it is salvaged by their talents. Similarly, Bart Hansard’s jovial depiction of the unassuming postman Charlie adds to the production’s charm.
That charm begins to be formed as soon as one walks into the theater. Seamus M. Bourne has created an inviting, homey and rustic set, which is accented by the creative lighting design of Bradley Bergeron between the scenes. It features a stone fireplace, large bay window and window seat and expansive French doors that overlook the lake. Also of note is Thom Jenkins’ sound design, which features faint voices of the characters in the distance when they are off stage, a rain storm and the sound of loons throughout the play.
Whether you are a fan of the Oscar-winning movie, love the play, or have seen neither, On Golden Pond will allow you to escape today’s troubles via an uplifting, hopeful production. It plays at Theatre in the Square through September 11. For more information and tickets, please visit the theater’s website or call 770-422-8369.
– Kenny Norton