Arts & Leisure

Shining staging of “On Golden Pond”

THE CAST of Westminster Community Playhouse’s presentation of “On Golden Pond” (WCP photo).

By Thom deMartino

As dearly as we may often wish our lives to remain the same — perennially in a season of bloom — the world inevitably turns, moves on… whether we like it or not.

In this staging by the Westminster Community Playhouse, summer has returned to Golden Pond, Maine — as have the droll and curmudgeonly professor emeritus Norman Thayer (Eric Nelson) and his sunny-dispositioned wife Ethel (Judy Jones) for their annual getaway at the house on the lake. Though Ethel prefers to think they are in their middle-age (at which the septuagenarian Norman scoffs), the pair’s autumn years are upon them. Always the romantic, Ethel warmly muses that this is their 48th summer together.

“Probably our last” quips Norman, morosely.

The cynical retired professor can’t help the dark, repeated turning of his thoughts to the great hereafter, much to his wife’s chagrin. Contending with a mild heart condition, increasing memory lapses, and a deepening sense of his own mortality, Norman grapples with his troubles through his wry wit and humor… often at the expense of those around him.

For instance, when the affable local postman, Charlie (Greg Stokes) — whom the couple have known since his boyhood — accidentally knocks the house’s (unknown to him, previously broken) screen door off its hinges, the elder man gleefully rakes him over the coals. And when Charlie asks after their daughter Chelsea (Lisa Renee), whom he dated for several summers many years before:

“Why didn’t you marry Chelsea?” Norman absentmindedly asks him.

“You wouldn’t let me!” protests the postman, exasperated and slightly annoyed.

“Oh – that’s right,” replies the father, nonchalantly.

The old man is stuck in his ways — using antiquated and culturally insensitive terms for other races (that were acceptable in an earlier day and age), and remaining steadfastly judgmental about “alternative” lifestyles in the world changing around him. “There’s something to be said for a deviant lifestyle,” he muses casually about a pair of elderly lesbian neighbors.

To say that Norman’s relationship with his daughter is strained is an understatement. When she and her new beau, Bill (William Crisp) arrive at the summer house for a visit, with Bill’s unimpressed 13-year-old son Billy (Austin Pulsifer) in tow, it’s not long before the unresolved resentments between he and Chelsea boil to the surface, while the differences between generations become more and more defined.

Yet despite the gruff exterior, in his most private moments, Norman seems fretful and uneasy, unsure of his future… even doubtful he has one. Can the chasm between father and daughter be bridged in the time he has left — and is he even capable of acceptance and change?

While those unfamiliar with “On Golden Pond” may go in expecting a heavy family drama, there is tremendous lightheartedness and comedy in the production: and the energy and chemistry between the entire cast is undeniable and authentic. They truly feel like a family — complete with complexities, quirks, resentments, and (hopefully) resolutions.

Stokes as Charlie the postman is both charming and moving, the audience feeling his heartbreak when he hears about Chelsea’s new boyfriend (and his character’s braying laugh will ring in your ears for some time to come.) Renee’s Chelsea radiates determination, unafraid to challenge her father (whom she calls “Norman”), yet showing the vulnerability of a woman who, somewhere deep within her, still longs for her dad’s acceptance; Crisp’s Bill initially comes off as perhaps a bit meek in the presence of his lady friend’s father, but clearly asserts himself and his determination to stand up for Chelsea. And Pulsifer plays a charismatic, distinctly millennial Billy: even a quite comedic (and vaguely cynical, in Norman’s vein) scene-stealer himself at points throughout the show.

However, without question, the heart and soul of the show are the aging husband and wife — contending with the passing of time, faltering of faculties, and changes to the world they have known: each giving balance to the other. The relationship between the pair drives the play, and the caliber of performance between Jones and Nelson is warm, genuine, and ultimately remarkable. Jones’ Ethel is equally witty as her husband, frequently giving as good as she gets — and Nelson’s Norman is a magnificent combination of sarcasm, bravado, self-confidence, and frailty.

“On Golden Pond” is in its final weekend at the Westminister Community Playhouse: a must-see dramedy for all ages, and increasingly relevant in this ever-changing world.

“On Golden Pond”, Eric Nelson, Judy Jones and Austin Pulsifer star in this moving family comedy/drama. Playing through Sunday, Nov. 19 at the Westminister Community Playhouse, 7272 Maple St, Westminster, from Oct. 7-23: ticketing information available online at http://www.wctstage.org, or call 714-893-8626. 

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