On Golden Pond is an oddly compelling story that leaves you feeling just a little bit better about life by its close--accompanied by a quivering lip and a lump in your throat just before you finally burst into tears.
Come on, admit it. It's a good bet that anyone over the age of 35 has watched the 1981 charmer of a movie with Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. And anyone who didn't choke up by film's end is an emotionless automaton!
All right--that might be going too far. Maybe you just don't like films oozing with sentiment ... But truth be told, the Ernest Thompson-penned play and screenplay manages to touch all the right notes, despite not following the traditional route of plot ups and downs. The play, in particular, follows a steady, one-note course without much conflict, but manages to keep your attention nonetheless, with a vested interest in the outcome.
Most of the credit for that goes to Thompson's creation of the characters of Norman and Ethel Thayer, the elderly couple who anchor On Golden Pond and give it its timeless resonance.
Boise Little Theater revisits this gem for the second time in 20 years, this time handing the reins to director Larry Dennis, who wisely teams actors Jerry Snodgrass and Nancy Suiter in the key roles. For Suiter, a veteran Boise-area actress, the role was a bit like coming home; she played Ethel in BLT's 1985 production.
For the uninitiated, On Golden Pond takes place at the summer home of a long-retired couple on the shores of Maine. Norman is a curmudgeonly, somewhat irritable rascal who offers ongoing morbid speculation about how he'll eventually die. Ethel is his soul mate, the one person who keeps Norman from completely losing faith in living--not an easy task by any means.
On the eve of Norman's 80th birthday, Ethel announces that their daughter Chelsea (Janet Summers) will be arriving with a new beau (Frederic Webb) and his 13-year-old son Billy (Greg Polly). Norman greets the news with reserved trepidation; he and Chelsea have never been particularly close.
After the younger couple's arrival and some awkward introductions, Chelsea asks her parents to keep Billy for the summer while she and his father travel to Europe. The experience ignites a long-dormant flame of joy in Norman, which carries through the rest of the play.
Snodgrass inhabits Norman as easily as slipping on a pair of gloves. He teeters Norman on the edge of irascibility but then reels him back in for moments of compassion with the people around him, particularly Ethel.
Suiter has the harder part of elevating Ethel to more than just Norman's long-suffering wife. The actress is more than up to the task, giving Ethel just enough spunk and humor to keep up with Norman's grumpiness. Her brief descent into despair near the play's end is particularly moving, thus accounting for that quivering lip mentioned earlier, so have those hankies handy.
In her program bio, Summers writes that being an actor "is the best way to add her voice to the cacophony of human existence," something that she certainly achieves here as Chelsea. Her inner and outer struggles with Snodgrass's Norman painfully echo those strained parent/child relationships that too often go unresolved in life.
Webb makes an impression as Chelsea's boyfriend Bill, enlivening a humorous scene between his character and Norman as the two discuss sleeping arrangements. Polly has obvious fun as the mischievous Billy, believably forming a tight bond with Snodgrass. G. Roberts Fields pops up in a brief but welcome role as Norman and Ethel's merry mailman.
The set is a joy to behold. Snodgrass, doing double duty as the set designer, creates a warm and cozy log-cabin feel with dark hardwood walls, second-story balcony, bookshelf, stone fireplace and even a broken screen door, through which Norman and Ethel enjoy the loons.
By Ernest Thompson, directed by Larry Dennis. June 1-4, 7-10. Boise Little Theater, 100 E. Fort St. For info/tickets, call 342-5104.