“On Golden Pond,” by Ernest Thompson, may well be the perfect summer play. And the current production at the Purple Rose Theatre, in the quaint village of Chelsea, may be its perfect expression.
Directed by PRTC resident artist Michelle Mountain, this production of “On Golden Pond” is evocative of the essential summer vacation pleasures: it’s refreshing, it’s spiritually healing, and it offers a brief respite from our clamorous, everyday lives. Good summer vacations help us distinguish between things that are truly important and those that are merely urgent. This play has that same grounding effect.
“On Golden Pond,” the play upon which Ernest Thompson based his Oscar-winning screenplay for the film of the same name, is a charming love story that follows retirees Ethel and Norman Thayer as they return to their summer home in Maine. John Peakes, founding Director of the BoarsHead Theatre for nearly 40 years, is the curmudgeonly Norman, a gruff 80-year old man who finds his memory and vitality slipping away. Peakes’ subtle, intelligent performance lets us understand that Norman, in his day, was a force to be reckoned with, and is still a man whose cutting wit is as sharp as ever. Norman doesn’t suffer fools or slackers.
Jan Radcliff is radiant as Ethel and it is a pleasure to watch her work with Peakes. She is romantic without being sappy; buoyant without being bubbly; direct without being bitchy. And even though she frequently swaps barbs with Peakes, in every scene they have together the actors reveal a lifetime of loving. Ethel spends a lot of time watching the loons out on Golden Pond, and Radcliffe lets us see them through her eyes. It’s the same thing with Ethel and Norman’s love for each other. The actors let us see it.
The Thayer’s respite on Golden Pond is punctuated each morning by the arrival of the mail, daily paper and local gossip, all delivered by boat courtesy of Charlie (David Daoust) who has known the Thayers, and their daughter Chelsea, since he was a boy. This quiet routine is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of their estranged daughter (Chelsea) and her new her fiancé (Bill Ray) – played by PRTC favorites Rhiannon Ragland and Tom Whalen.
They have brought Bill’s teenage son Billy to Golden Pond, with hopes of leaving him with Norman and Ethel while Chelsea and Bill spend a month in Europe. Ethel is delighted, Norman less so, but they agree. Over the course of the summer, an unlikely friendship develops between Norman and the boy – played with likeable self-confidence by Milo Tucker-Meyerson, who alternates the role with Ian Bejster.
Billy’s interest in fishing and hearing about the old days sparks a renewed passion for life in Norman. And when Chelsea sees how her father relates to this boy, she is forced to confront the old daemons that have kept her and her father apart for so many years.
“On Golden Pond” is set in the late ‘70s, but it has lost none of its charm. Make this your next mini-summer vacation – it will do you a world of good. It runs at the Purple Rose Theatre through September 1, 2012. Mr. Peakes will leave the production on August 5, and Richard Henzel (Chicago, IL) will finish the run in the role of Norman.
Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. On July 4, because of the holiday, there will not be a matinee, but there will be a performance at 8 p.m. There will be additional 3 p.m. Thursday matinees on July 5, July 12, July 26, August 9 and August 23. See the website for more information or to purchase tickets.
Exclusive underwriting support for this production comes from The Helppie Family Charitable Foundation. Additional support is provided by media partners, Michigan Radio and WJR, and lead season sponsor, The Ford Motor Company Fund. All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, in Chelsea.