BWW Review: ON GOLDEN POND Sparkles at Oyster Mill
Written by Ernest Thompson, ON GOLDEN POND was on Broadway as a play before Jane Fonda bought the movie rights to create a starring vehicle for her father in 1981. The movie, for which Thompson wrote the screenplay, is not only slightly different from the play, but suffers from its own glories - that Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda shared a screen, and that it was hard to break loose from an awareness that you were watching three screen icons at work on their way to Oscar nominations. The original play, rather more modest in scope, is also a little more human.
Right now, ON GOLDEN POND is at Oyster Mill Playhouse, directed by Marcie Warner. If there's a community theatre in the area better situated or sized for this show, it's hard to think of one; the intimacy of Oyster Mill lends itself to the audience feeling that it's in Norman and Ethel Thayer's summer home living room. The main set and props are nicely handled, so the living room and its environs feel real to the audience while within the show's cocoon.
Norman is played by Oyster Mill veteran Charles Smith, who's well on his way to owning the part. If there's any fault in his performance, it's his own self - Smith is genuinely nice on stage, leaving it difficult to imagine that he and his daughter are estranged because she thinks he's awful and manipulative. But families are as much made up of what you don't see as what you do see, so perhaps a genial lack of cranky bastardy can be forgiven without much trouble. Ethel, his wife, for whom the house on Golden Pond is the family home, or at least its long-term summer home through her childhood, is played by Anne Marino, who is, thankfully, playing Ethel and not playing Katherine Hepburn. For those who know the movie, it's hard to scrub Hepburn's worthy performance from mind - it's best for any actor to do as Marino does and stay with the character and not with the film star's Hepburnisms.
Their adult daughter, Chelsea, who lives across the country, is Denise Carman. Carman's strong in this role, as she has been before at Oyster Mill, though she has some definite talent competition from the character of Billy, the stepson, played by her own son Ashur, who was in HOLLYWOOD ARMS previously. Oyster Mill audiences should look forward to seeing more of both of them on stage, and we may hope they'll oblige us.
Ron Nason and Patrick Hughes play Bill, Chelsea's fiancé, and Charlie, the mailman, who's never been immune to Chelsea's charm. They handle their roles well, but compared to Ethel, Norman, and Chelsea, with a side of Billy, their parts are comparatively small.
The pleasures of this show, like the pleasures in any family, are in small things - Ethel's fondness for a childhood doll, Ethel and Chelsea recalling the local summer camp's cheers, Norman and Billy fishing, Billy's attempts to sneak cookies. Over all, it's a touching story, but as with real life, it's brief moments that you'll remember most vividly later. Enjoy them all; as the show reminds us, life is all too brief.
Through March 18 at Oyster Mill Playhouse, Camp Hill. Visit oystermill.com or their Facebook page for tickets and information.