On Golden Pond

An Endearing Portrayal of an Enduring Play

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

On Golden Pond is a play about family and relationships, love, aging and dying. It’s no wonder it endures with its numerous universal themes. Written in 1979 by Ernest Thompson when he was 28 years old, it was adapted into a successful film. The stage play has become a classic, and with excellent direction and a stellar cast in the Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia production this year, it’s one you should see.

Norman Thayer Jr., a long-retired professor, and Ethel, his wife, have returned to their summer home on the banks of Golden Pond, greeted by the loons. The spry Ethel seems content to enjoy their surroundings and simple pleasures, but Norman’s health has slipped and he gets a little confused at times. He seems preoccupied with the classified ads, which helps pass the time. Their daughter Chelsea, who rarely visits but decides to come for Norman’s 80th birthday, brings her new boyfriend, Bill Ray, a dentist who is not comfortable outside of the city. Bill brings his son Billy, a spoiled, outspoken 13-year-old. When Chelsea and Bill go to Europe on vacation, Ethel agrees to look after Billy, and Norman soon takes to the boy, happy to spend time with him and take him fishing. When Chelsea returns and sees this, her old resentments are stirred and she has trouble letting them go. But with her mother’s encouragement, she decides to improve her relationship with her father.

I was curious then thrilled to see Karen Grassle as Ethel. She has a wonderful sweet-sounding voice and that makes the repartee between the couple more endearing and playful. If you only know her from her role as Caroline Ingalls, then you will see her with full freedom of movement, unencumbered by restrictive clothing and customs. She uses words you’ve never heard her say on Little House on the Prairie, and she is a delight!

Walter Borden, a Stratford Festival veteran, is also delightful as the curmudgeonly Norman Thayer. His performance is a good match for Grassle. His delivery is more witty than acerbic.

The character of Chelsea is played by Kelli Fox, who recently directed Gaslight at the Shaw Festival. She is believable and exceptional as the caring daughter of Ethel who struggles in her relationship with Norman, her father.

Kent Sheridan plays Bill Ray, Chelsea’s awkward boyfriend. Noah Leonard, who has been involved in theatre since age nine, is a natural as Bill’s son, Billy Ray. The role has a physical element which triggers various audible reactions from the audience. And Brian Belleth, (The New Canadian Curling Club) plays Charlie Martin, the quirky mail delivery guy. He shares a delightful scene with Kelli Fox.

The set by D2 Entertainment fills the stage with panelled walls and a bricked fireplace. It’s charming and homey with bookshelves full of classics, plenty of solid wood furniture, family photos and art on the walls.

This endearing portrayal of On Golden Pond has a gentler tone at the Victoria Playhouse thanks to the wonderful acting and the direction by David Hogan. In the course of my research, I viewed online clips of scenes performed by various actors, including greats Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, but my preference is the warmer performance at the VPP. If you plan to go, get your tickets now; it is sure to sell out quickly.

On Golden Pond continues at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, until July 24, 2022. For tickets, call the box office at 519-882-1221 or 1-800-717-7694 or visit www.thevpp.ca

Photo: Karen Grassle and Walter Borden as Ethel and Norman Thayer. Photo by Diane O’Dell.

On Golden Pond
By Ernest Thompson
Directed by David Hogan
Performed by Karen Grassle, Walter Borden, Kelli Fox, Brian Belleth, Noah Leonard, Kent Sheridan
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia,
July 5 to 24, 2022
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

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