Before it was an Academy Award winning film, On Golden Pond was a play, opening off-Broadway in 1978. The film adaptation in 1981 starred Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, as well as Henry’s daughter Jane Fonda, and won a swag of awards. While the 1812 Theatre audience were no doubt more familiar with the film adapation, the screenplay remained very true to the original play and fans of the original film would not be disappointed.
On Golden Pond tells the story of a retired couple who spend their summers at their holiday house in New England on the tranquil shores of Golden Pond. He’s grumpy and fixated on his mortality. She’s strong and doesn’t put up with his nonsense.
During this summer’s vacation their adult daughter comes to visit with her new boyfriend and his teenage son, asking her aging parents to take care of the boy while the new couple travel to Europe.
What blossoms is a charming bond between the old man and the teenage boy, but it’s the relationship with his own daughter that needs the attention.
The curtains opened to reveal the detailed set (designed by Chris Leopard) eliciting oohs and ahhs from the appreciative opening night audience (and even a few surprise gasps!). This was enhanced with the original On Golden Pond music by Dave Grusin and the sound of loons calling. Large screens were used as backdrops to create a lake to good effect. Lighting design by Robin Le Blond create a sense of passing time. Costumes (Christine Hibberd) helped to set the era of the play, although the story itself feels timeless.
Chris Hodson delivers an excellent portrayal of Norman Thayer. He’s cantankerous and brash, but with enough mischief and fun that endears him to the audience. Genevieve Ryan is delightful as his wife, Ethel and the pair share a believable onstage chemistry.
Peter Frid gives a solid performance as the somewhat unlucky in love local mailman, Charlie. Janna Wright as Chelsea Thayer Wayne, brings tension to the story, as the flawed relationship between Chelsea and her father is revealed. Although a familiar face to 1812 regulars, Ian Johnson returns to the stage after a four year break and gives a good performance as Chelsea’s boyfriend Billy Ray.
Rounding out the cast is Ben Vanderstaak. After watching Vanderstaak come through Centrestage Youth Theatre, this was Vanderstaak’s best performance yet and it’s exciting to see the youth make their debut on the Lowe Auditorium stage as part of the regular 1812 season.
Director Chris Proctor has delivered a beautiful play that feels true to the film adaptation that captured the hearts of so many people in the 1980s, but without feeling like a carbon copy.
The themes of this story are just as relevant now as they were when it first opened and On Golden Pond is a story for all ages. As the patron sitting beside me said at the conclusion of the play, “That was lovely.” Indeed, On Golden Pond is a lovely night at the theatre.
Overall: 4 stars
On Golden Pond is now playing at the 1812 Theatre until Saturday 14th March.