BWW Review: ON GOLDEN POND at The Arctic Playhouse
The danger in taking on a play made famous by an iconic film adaptation is that it's so hard to overcome audience associations with it or with the superstar actors involved. The Arctic Playhouse takes on that challenge with their current production of Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond and wins.
Terry Simpson so well inhabits the role of cranky octogenarian Norman Thayer that it quickly feels like the playhouse is actually the Thayers' living room. He balances curmudgeon with warmth and charm, so that Thayer, despite his litany of complaints, is immediately likable.
Mention this story to anyone and they are likely to mention the loons-or call out to them. Sandy Cerel, who portrays Norman's wife, Ethel, (and also co-directed the show with Christopher Margadonna) so convincingly fawns over those birds, it was tempting to turn around and see if there really were a pair of nesting loons in the back of the Arctic Playhouse.
The cozy playhouse lent itself perfectly to this story and it was love at first sight when it came to the set, which was designed by Jim Belanger and Lloyd Felix. Without a curtain, the audience can take in the rich details of this carefully crafted representation of the lake cottage prior to the start of the show as the house - and the audience - await the Thayers. Everything - from the slightly askance photos on the wall showing decades of memories - to the mix of board games and books to the wall phone and the infamous broken screen door -creates more than just a backdrop but a specific moment in time-the summer of 1980 to be exact.
And this point makes it a bittersweet story on two levels. While we are watching what could very well be the Thayers' last summer on their beloved pond, we are also given a peek into a time now gone by as well. Even the tray of coffee mugs points to a time when coffee was a ritual made at home and shared, instead of being handed to you through your car window.
Ethel brings that tray of coffee mugs out to host the mailman (he's not a letter carrier), Charlie who arrives throughout the summer via mailboat. Christopher Verleger portrays Charlie with the most authentic room-filling laugh and the chemistry between Cerel and Verleger makes them seem like old friends.
The Thayers' divorced daughter Chelsea, played by Cherylee Dumas, comes home from California for her father's 80th birthday. Chelsea brings her scared-of-nature dentist boyfriend and his young teen son. Dumas brings a chic sophistication to Chelsea, a good counterpoint to the homey cottage, underscoring the rift between Chelsea and Norman. Steve Dulude brings the right light touch of comic relief to the awkward dentist. And Ethan Clarke portrays the dentist's son with a precocious stage presence and ability.
Although their visit gives Norman plenty to complain about, in the end, more is repaired in this story than that wonky screen door.
Be sure to share this moment with friends soon as the Arctic Playhouse's production of On Golden Pond ends October 14. And be sure to catch a play here in this sweet theatre before they move to their bigger location. See www.thearcticplayhouse.com for details.