Golden Moments in On Golden Pond

0

 

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!

-30-

Return to Reviews

The Attic, The Pearls & 3 Fine Girls Make One Very Fine Evening!

0

(This article is also available on onrpei.ca)

I love comedy. There. I’ve said it. There are many other things I’ll say I love, but the evening of November 3 has gotten me out and admitting that I love comedy, and I just loved this performance, so wonderfully directed by Laurel Smyth! CONGRATULATIONS, Laurel!

Of course, without the cast, the play would have been nothing at all, and it was mainly the cast that made the play so amusingly and amazingly human.

The playwrights, whom, I have learned, started writing the play as improvisational theatre and worked on it over several years, have captured the essence of family and sisterhood in their delightfully delectable and infinitely humorous script. Tell me if there are too many superlatives…but I can’t really think of enough.

Three sisters, Jojo (the eldest, played by Melissa Mullen), Jane (the in-betweener, played by Kathleen Hamilton) and Jelly (the baby, played by Gill Mahen) have to deal with their father’s death and the party he requested as his dying wish. But it is not just the party and his death they have to deal with, apparently. Like any normal family, they have had issues about each other and with each other, as well as with their lives outside their sisterhood.

Jojo has been in a couple of failed relationships after giving up her one true love, Umesh, to be with Jane at her “death bed” which, as it turns out, was not final. Jane, who is plagued with episodes of some unnamed condition (asthma? a weak heart?) has also been in several relationships, and is as yet unable to come out in the open about her sexuality. Jelly is a struggling artist who has decided to return home and take care of their ailing father in his last year of life.

Jojo is angry at Jane for many things, but mainly the loss of her one true love and for having slept with her ex-husband, then inviting him to the party. Jane is obsessed with her work, her girlfriend, and her former lover, Mrs. Gray, who is also at the party. Jelly is the only without any real hidden anger, and interprets her life in her art, particularly for an upcoming exhibit in Munich.

Their father’s death has thrown the three together in the house they grew up in, full of memories of good times and bad times, and the script constantly throws us back and forth between past and present. Most of the memories are literally and figuratively stored in the attic, which is where the girls are reminded of most of them.

How they confront each other and their pasts is alternatingly poignant and hilarious, as Jane and Jojo lapse into rambunctious remembering in between blaming and bickering. Jelly finds herself more and more in the role of mother and peacekeeper, emphasized by the way she is supposed to look so like their mother and how she does things the way their mother did. Still, she is the “baby” who is constantly ignored and not heard, until she finally finds a way to get their attention and make them listen to her. In the end, they find the best solution, which really was Jelly’s suggestion in the first place.

The actresses were superb in their roles, which all seemed so natural. It’s no wonder after all, since Laurel told me that they had about two years to go over the script and work on the characters before they finally decided on a definite run.

The sets, executed by Anne Putnam, had all the charm of a rustic aging attic—indeed, the whole house seemed like an attic, fraught with memories—and served the performers well. David Bennet’s lighting, including a few special effects, worked excellently with scene changes, except for one tiny forgivable execution in timing, which revealed an exit that should have been hidden. The costuming was both whimsical and characteristic of the teacher, the businesswoman, and the artist in each of the three characters. And the music! The sound effects and the music that triggered many of the memories were the icing on the cake.

If I could, I would watch this show every night of its run! One performance is not enough to savour every little aspect of the play, or even to just enjoy the quick and witty dialogue and the little surprises every scene change brought. Definitely a play to catch before the month is over!

-30-