Saturday, January 20, 2018
Stage

Sparkling performances make Stage West's 'On Golden Pond' a hit

I really, really hate to do this. But in my commitment to journalistic integrity, I must tell the truth about the Stage West Community Playhouse's production of On Golden Pond.

It's really, really good.

Not perfect, mainly because of a puzzling casting decision by director Ellen Hutt, but, yup, really good. But — and I'm sorry to say this — except for a few scattered seats (which will probably be gone by the time you read this), the final performances this weekend are sold out. So if either this review or your friends' urging makes you want to see the show, you're likely out of luck, unless someone turns in some tickets they don't' need.

And that's too bad, because fine scripts like that of Ernest Thompson and sparkling performances like those of longtime professional actor Ernie Rowland as the irascible Norman Thayer Jr.; eight-time HAMI winner Betsy Glasson as his patient, supportive wife Ethel; theater actor and instructor Emily Nettnin as their troubled daughter, Chelsea, and a charming, budding actor Chat Nott as young Billy Ray don't come along all that often.

Those fine casting decisions make two others all the more inexplicable: Craig Balcomb as Bill, Chelsea's 45-year-old boyfriend, and Sam Petricone as Charlie, the postman who has loved 42-year-old Chelsea since she was a teenager, when he was making the postal delivery loop around Golden Pond. It's obvious that the roles should have been switched, with the robust, age-appropriate Petricone as the boyfriend and the more mature Balcomb as the postman. What gives, director Hutt?

And to make it worse, Hutt gives Petricone's Charlie a booming horse laugh that not only annoys, but also steps all over some of Norman's best lines. And Balcomb's opening-night makeup made him look downright ghostly.

On Golden Pond takes place over a long summer vacation at a lakeside cottage in Maine. Norman will celebrate his 80th birthday while they're there, and he insists it's going to be his last.

He's having some memory problems, but they haven't dulled his sharp tongue nor his biting wit, and Rowland's timing and delivery are simply exquisite. This is Rowland's first lead role at Stage West, and audiences can only hope he'll be doing more in the future.

Glasson creates an Ethel who is a perfect foil for Norman and for their troubled daughter, Chelsea. She's a gifted stage natural whose physical moves and facial expressions can delicately tell an entire life story in a moment.

What a pleasure to watch these fine performers reveal a lifetime of emotional pain and conflict as they work their way to understanding, which happens, thanks to the arrival of young Billy, who, without being anybody but himself, brings a resolution to relationships that have festered for decades. And all that in 2 1/2 hours.

The story may be familiar to those who have seen the Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn movie, but the Stage West performers resist the temptation to mimic those famous personages and create an all-new feel with their own interpretations of the extended Thayer family.

Praise also goes to the sizable crew, which created a good-looking, serviceable, two-level set and fine lighting, though some of the costumes could be made more flattering. It all could be improved with some appropriate music during scene changes, especially before the understandably lengthy last scene change. Perhaps some American Indian flute music? Or an instrumental of the summer camp song?

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