The first time I watched On Golden Pond was the 1981 film version starring Katherine Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda with the screenplay written by the playwright Ernest Thompson. Definitely a hard act to follow, but I really liked that movie, so I was eager to watch the production staged by Victoria Playhouse.
It was my first time to ever watch a play at the Victoria Playhouse and I was eager to see this theatre that had been out of my reach until now. I’ll have to say that, apart from the really tight rows that have barely a hair’s breadth between your knees and the back of the seat in front of yours and no elbow room to either side unless you sit in the aisles, the theatre was pretty impressive. The seats were comfortable if not very roomy, the atmosphere cozy, the stage compact. The lights were more than enough for the stage, which was designed by the Playhouse’s resident scenic designer W. Scott MacConnell. Scott did a pretty good job of making the set look nice and cozy with a view of the pond from the porch window. I’ll overlook the fact that the walls and beams of the Thayer’s summer house didn’t look very much like real wood, if it was meant to look that way because all the other details were well executed anyway. I just thought the fishing rod rack right in front of the hall mirror was a little odd. I don’t imagine real people would want to see themselves in a mirror behind a row of fishing rods. The tiny love seat that stood in for a couch made some of the blocking just a tad bit awkward since the actors looked really cramped sitting on it. I like the fact, though, that there was a lot of seating around, although the dining table didn’t serve a whole lot of purpose and the bench seat next to the fireplace was hardly used. Neither was the door adjacent to the front door. Set design is not just about the appearance but the functionality of the set as well. But enough of that. This isn’t about the set.
As Norman Thayer, Bill McFadden did great justice to the role. He was as much of a curmudgeon as the character could be and he definitely commanded the stage when he was on it. That’s not to say that Sharlene MacLean in the role of Ethel Thayer didn’t keep up. It would be totally unfair to compare her to Katherine Hepburn in the same role, and I wasn’t always convinced that she was Ethel, but all things considered, she fit in nicely with the rest of the cast. Kathleen Hamilton as the daughter, Chelsea, seemed a mite too stiff in her role. Granted her character was carrying around a huge chip on her shoulder, the emotions she showed didn’t always seem very genuine. The opposite was true of Mark Fraser as the postman and Chelsea’s past summer love, Charlie, who was constantly jolly and carried on buoyantly. Josh Weale as Bill Ray was a perfect match to Kathleen’s Chelsea. Elijah Smith as the young Billy Ray was a delight to watch and was definitely less surly, more friendly and ready for action than Doug McKeon’s Billy Ray in the film version. All together, the cast played together very well. The pickup of lines was excellent and the jokes never fell flat. That’s also probably because of the very attentive and appreciative audience, and a full-house at that! Definitely a feel-good performance that was applauded with a standing ovation.
I must say that another thing I like about the Playhouse is the acoustics. I firmly believe that thespians must learn to project their voices as well as their characters and the high-tech sound systems in Charlottetown have spoiled actors so much that they need wireless mikes even in as small a venue as The Guild. The Playhouse holds as many seats as The Guild does (I estimated seating for 150) yet the actors’ voices were perfectly clear even in the back row, where I was seated. I am definitely coming back to the Playhouse!
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