BWW Review: ON GOLDEN POND at South Bend Civic Theatre
The South Bend Civic Theatre's production of On Golden Pond opened this past weekend with a surprising amount of seats sold for a show that I assumed wasn't well known. The house in the theatre's Wilson Auditorium was almost completely filled with eagerly awaiting audience members admiring yet another beautiful set by Jeff Barrick that emphasized a nostalgic and charming tone even before the show began.
Charming is the word that kept recurring in my head as I watched this delightful production. As the director of this production, Kevin Dryer, describes it, "It is a play about a couple discovering vulnerability, uncertainty, fragility, reduced ability, and hope".
The two protagonists Ethel and Norman, played by David Chudzynski and Deborah Girasek-Chudzynski, are a married couple in their late 70s who move back to a summer home while trying to deal with Norman's mental and physical health issues.
With a show that has such a sardonic and depressingly realistic plot such as this, it is imperative that the comedy blends in perfectly time-wise. While one could argue all of that timing is in the writer's control, an audience member can easily see the cast, as well as Dryer's fingerprints, all over the comedy in this production - particularly with the exchanged reactions of any character that disturbs Norman.
Speaking of Norman, David Chudzynski does an exquisite job of creating a completely believable and crotchety old man of the lead character without making him a caricature. Chudzynski's give and take with his wife on stage makes for perfect chemistry.
As for Girasek-Chudzynski, she has a fun time on stage and is extremely detailed with the physicality of Ethel as in relation to the emotions she goes through in the show. If I was to have one complaint with her performance, however, it would be that at times she felt too presentational. There was a certain level of bombast that, while I have no doubt it was intentional, took me out of what had been built up as such a realistic world on stage.
Rounding out this cast includes Charlie the mailman, played by Russell Pluta, who adds his own style of lovable comedy into the show seamlessly. Then there are Bill and Billy Ray, played by Alex Bobbs and Charlie Barron, who do an admirable job at holding their own with Chudzynski despite their comparatively brief stage time.
Finally, there is the couple's daughter Chelsea played by Wendy Chevrie who does a splendid job portraying the confused, repressed aggression of the character, but has a harder time naturally executing a more laid back and fun demeanor on-stage without it feeling disingenuous. Phrases like "Poopy" and "Holy macanoli" that come naturally from other characters, I felt, were a little more forced when said by Chevrie.
The real power behind this show is honestly in the seemingly simplistic blocking. The spacing between characters and or a single character's placement in the rustic house almost always mirrors either the relationship of two characters or the inner thoughts of a single character. Uncomfortable tension being built-up between Bill and Norman separates them with an occasional attempted shift. Chelsea standing closer to Ethel than Norman signifying favoritism and comfortability. Little subtleties are sprinkled around the whole show and are always effective.
If there were any other nitpicks to be had, it would be my personal pet-peeve of the obvious stage crew taking the audience out of the world on-stage. It works better for this show than period pieces, but for as little set changes as there were, I can't help but feel like there were other ways one could have gone about the set changes.
Overall, however, South Bend Civic Theatre's production of On Golden Pond was a delightful and charming show that I would recommend to anybody interested in seeing it.
ON GOLDEN POND continues performances through May 19th, 2019 at the South Bend Civic Theatre. Tickets are available at the South Bend Civic Theatre, online atwww.sbct.org, or by calling (574)234-1112.
Photo Credits: Michael Caterina