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On Golden Pond at Bristol Riverside Theatre

Ralph Malachowski

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posted by Ralph Malachowski on Feb 6, 2019 10:30am | comments

   


Ernest Thompson’s beloved modern classic On Golden Pond is now at the Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bucks County, PA, until February 10.

 

Most people are aware of the plot, since On Golden Pond was a celebrated film with Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Dabney Coleman, and Katharine Hepburn in 1981. On Golden Pond first appeared as a hit play in 1979.

 

On Golden Pond explores a family whose lives have centered on their summer house on Golden Pond, Maine, for 48 years. The play takes place over the course of one summer. The cast includes Keith Baker as patriarch Norman Thayer, Jr., a retired professor, and Jeanne Lehman as Ethel Thayer, Norman’s wife, in what is principally their love story. Michael Satow is Charlie Martin, the middle-aged postal worker who is rather slow-witted, but charms Ethel. He still has a crush on the Thayer’s middle-aged daughter Chelsea, played by Eleanor Handley, who has been divorced, and is currently estranged from her father who mentally abused her as a girl. Chelsea is coming to Golden Pond to celebrate her father’s 80th birthday. This is something that Norman isn’t too happy about, since both daughter and father have not spoken to each other for eight years. The plot twist is that Chelsea has a fiancé named Bill (Danny Vaccaro) and he arrives with Chelsea along with Bill’s thirteen-year-old son Billy (magnificently played by Henry Parker). Billy invigorates the mentally and physically deteriorating Norman over the summer while Chelsea and Bill have married and honeymooned abroad. Chelsea magnanimously forgives Norman for everything he did to her as a girl, while Ethel stood by and did nothing. The play closes with a wake-up call to both Norman and Ethel that at 80 and 69, respectively, their 48th summer on Golden Pond may be their last together.

 

This production of On Golden Pond is directed by Susan D. Atkinson, a fixture at the Bristol for decades. One may wish that Keith Baker had been directed to be a tad less angry, while the fussy, rather simple Ethel of Jeanne Lehman could have been a stronger, more sympathetic character. We find this especially true late in the play when Ethel confronts Chelsea who has just said something insulting about Norman. Ethel slaps her daughter’s face. This happens after Ethel shames Chelsea to grow up, act like a middle-aged woman and forget all Norman did to her as a girl. As staged, some in the audience may have wanted Chelsea to do just that and slap Ethel right back. After all, they are both now equal, as mature adults.  In 2019, we may wish that Ethel apologize to Chelsea for enabling Norman’s toxic behavior towards his daughter.  None is given, heightening the graciousness of Chelsea’s forgiveness of both parents.

 

The cantankerous jabs at Asians, Jews, and lesbians will grate, but production values are high, the story is complex and engaging, and the actors perform with skill and professionalism, especially the young Henry Parker.  On Golden Pond is a comforting domestic drama for heterosexual married couples over 60 who may see themselves onstage, for their forgiving, middle-aged children, and any thirteen-year-old boys who may be about.

 

On Golden Pond is at the Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol, PA, until February 10. Next onstage will be The Sunshine Boys, March 12-March 31, and The Christians, April 30-May 19. For more information, call 215-785-0100 or visit www.brtstage.org .

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