For its inaugural play, By the Sea Productions dusts off an old favorite, Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond.”
Since the action takes place in one room and only requires six actors, the former Pewter Plough Players’ new venue in the community room of St. Peter’s By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Morro Bay is a perfect fit.
On a small stage representing the living room of a summer cottage in Maine, the actors seem bigger than life. Gene Strohl directs the excellent cast.
Nearly 40 years old, “On Golden Pond” blends humor and pathos with some timeless themes: marriage, old age and relationships with children.
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Norman Thayer Jr. (Tom Ammon) is about to turn 80 but pretends it’s just another number. Any fears he may have about death closing in he hides behind his usual sardonic gruffness.
Ethyl (Toni Young), his wife for nearly half a century, is outgoing, positive and embraces life. Ten years younger than her husband, she’s the antithesis of the man she fondly calls an “old poop.”
Ethyl is concerned about her husband’s memory, but since Norm is always teasing in his dry fashion, it’s hard to tell if it’s his personality or what comes with the territory of aging. But Ethyl knows the difference.
The good-natured mailman, Charlie (Craig Brooke), stops by to visit and provide some company and laughter for Ethyl. Charlie mainly wants news of the Thayers’ daughter, Chelsea (Janine Elich).
Although Ethyl and Chelsea stay in touch, they haven’t seen each other for eight years. It turns out that it’s more than physical distance that separates them.
To Ethyl’s delight, Chelsea visits in time for Norman’s 80th birthday on her way to Europe from California with her latest boyfriend, Bill Ray (Tim Linzey).
When the couple arrives, they have Bill’s 13-year-old son, Billy Ray (Ali Burkhead), in tow.
Norm, a retired English professor, has few interests – reading, board games and fishing – but he does get a perverse pleasure out of making people uncomfortable.
Charlie is unfazed by Norm’s insults, mostly because he’s not too bright and doesn’t catch on.
The thin-skinned Chelsea, however, takes everything her father says personally and holds a lifelong grudge against him. She basically feels he doesn’t love her, that she’s never lived up to his expectations. Norm tries to intimidate Bill, but the California man is savvy and doesn’t take the bait.
Billy Ray is cocky and self assured and in spite of the vast age gap, he and the old man hit it off. Ethyl talks Norm into letting the teen spend a month with them. This odd duo has a terrific time fishing, speaking French and discussing books.
Billy Ray’s youthfulness serves as a tonic for the elderly man, giving him the son and grandson he never had. Here is a kid he can teach and share jokes with, filling his otherwise boring days.
When Chelsea returns from Europe to take Billy home, she and Norm – she calls her father by his first name – continue to spar.
Ethyl is always trying to smooth things out between the two most important people in her life, but she eventually gets exasperated with Chelsea’s relentless resentment. Finally, Chelsea works up the courage to face off with her father.
Since connections and communication seem even more important in this day and age than ever before, “On Golden Pond” should appeal to all ages.
Contact freelance writer Lee Sutter at firstname.lastname@example.org.