by Lynn on August 2, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Hamilton Family Theatre, Cambridge, Ont. Until Aug. 6.

Written by Ernest Thompson

Directed by Marti Maraden

Set by Allan Wilbee

Costumes by Jennifer Wonnacott

Lighting by Kevin Fraser

Cast: Justin Bott

Benedict Campbell

Janet-Laine Green

Evan Kearns

Cyrus Lane

Stacy Smith

Prickly and sweet.

The Story. We are at the summer home (cottage?) of Norman Thayer Jr. and his wife Ethel, in Maine, on Golden Pond. They have arrived for the summer to open the place. Norman is a retired English professor. He is about to celebrate his 80th birthday and he’s not happy about it. He’s irritable, irascible and forgetting too many things of late, which probably is making him irritable. He and Ethel are expecting their daughter Chelsea who is coming with her present boyfriend. Norman is probably uneasy about that too. He and Chelsea don’t get along. Ethel seems to be the referee between them.

The Production. Designer Allan Wilbee has created a large, two-story rustic cottage of wood, beams and walls full of pictures and other memorabilia of a life well lived. The furniture has been covered with sheets for the winter, until Norman (Benedict Campbell) and Ethel (Janet-Laine Green) return for the summer. We can see the lake through the many windows on the back wall. We will hear the birds chirp and the loons make whatever sound they make over the course of the play. Ethel will revel in that and make Norman join her.

Norman enters first, slowly, a bit hunched. He opens the back door then tries to open the screen door that completely falls away from its hinges and falls on the back porch. He tries to hide that by putting the door up by the outside wall. When Ethel sees it he says he will fix it. An on-going joke is that the door continues to NOT be fixed and connected to its hinges, because Norman sure takes his time doing it.

Norman goes to a wall with photos and can’t recognize who’s in one picture. He is not sure the phone is working so he calls the operator to try calling his number. He can’t remember the number but assures the operator ‘it’s in the book.’ When she does call back, he forgets why she’s calling. We get the picture; Norman is slowly losing his memory. It preys on him.

As Norman, Benedict Campbell is gruff, irritated, very funny in his angst and obviously worried about his health. As Ethel, Janet-Laine Green is spry, sprightly, industrious, understanding and always trying to cheer up Norman. When Chelsea (Stacy Smith) arrives, Ethel is also the peace-keeper between Norman and Chelsea, who do not get along. Chelsea feels she is a disappointment to her accomplished father and she can’t break through her father’s stubbornness.

As Chelsea, Stacy Smith is anxious and tentative when first seeing her father for obvious reasons and more relaxed with her mother, who is encouraging.  Chelsea would also be anxious because she’s brought her boyfriend Bill Ray (Cyrus Lane) on the trip. Bill is a dentist, divorced and has a 13-year-old son named Billy (Evan Kearns), who has also accompanied Chelsea and Bill.  

To add a bit more spice to the mix, Norman and Ethel are visited by Charlie Martin (Justin Bott), the mailman for the area, a sweet man but not intellectually swift. He had thought that he and Chelsea might have been a couple when they were younger, but Chelsea was not interested. We get a good sense of Charlie’s personality by how Justin Bott plays him. Charlie laughs at everything, in a high, increasingly intense laugh. He is well meaning, kind and lonely. He is anxious to see Chelsea again, perhaps to rekindle something but is disappointed when he realizes that Chelsea has someone in her life. Justin Bott plays Charlie with sensitivity and an open heart.

Bill (Cyrus Lane) arrives. He’s wearing a suit and tie. (pause). He, his son and Chelsea have driven from California to Maine for a vacation (!) and he’s wearing a suit and tie. (Kudos to costume designer Jennifer Wonnacott who has designed wonderfully appropriate cottage clothes for everyone except Bill, who thinks he’s still at the office filling people’s teeth). Cyrus Lane as Bill is courtly, measured and respectful, especially to Norman. He’s obviously heard that Norman always gave Chelsea’s boyfriends a hard time. When Bill has had one too many insults from Norman, he lets him have it in the most respectful, quiet manner; that he knows Norman’s game and it won’t work. One doubts that Norman ever got anyone to answer him back with as much respect and confidence as Bill. Cyrus Lane has one scene and he does it beautifully.

As Billy, Evan Kearns also has that sweet brashness of a 13-year-old kid. He’s funny, a bit flippant, but he has to contend with Norman. Billy represents Norman’s second chance at living. Norman asks if Billy fishes—Norman loves to fish. Norman teaches Billy to fish. And how about reading? Norman suggests Billy read one chapter of a book he suggests and to give him a report about it. And thus begins the wonderful, giddy friendship of this 80-year-old man and this young teenager.

It’s decided that Billy will spend a month with Norman and Ethel while Chelsea and Bill go to Europe. We see the difference that month has made. Norman is now moving a bit quicker, straighter and with gusto. Billy is eager to fish and read.

Marti Maraden has directed this with a careful eye to the text. She does not give in to sentimentality. The relationships are beautifully created and crafted.  We have seen this story before, often: angry older person, thinks their life is nearly over; angry at the world; and then something happens to change it. It’s not a boring ‘seen-that-done-that-story’. It’s something we’ve all experienced and seeing it again from someone else’s perspective makes the story come alive. It’s sweet and prickly and kind. We can use that in our angry world.  

Comment. Playwright Ernest Thompson wrote On Golden Pond when he was 28. It opened Off-Broadway in 1978 and had great success after that, moving to Broadway, being made into a film, for which he won the Academy Award for best adaptation. Well worth a trip to Cambridge.

Drayton Entertainment presents:

Plays until: Aug. 6, 2022.

Running Time: 2 hours approx. (1 intermission)

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