AIMLESSLY ADRIFT ON GOLDEN POND
After seeing the stage version of On Golden Pond, now playing at The Glendale Centre Theatre, it’s impossible not to think how much more rewarding it would have been to stay home, curl up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn, and watch the 1981 film version starring Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda (both of whom won acting Oscars).
The poignant drama by Ernest Thompson tells the tale of Ethel and Norman Thayer as they face the harsh realities of their “twilight” years. The action unfolds over the course of a summer at the couple’s New England retreat on Golden Pond. As Norman hits his 80th birthday, his health is failing, his memory fading, and he covers his fear of losing himself through his cantankerous behavior. Their estranged daughter Chelsea shows up with her fiancé Billy Ray, and asks the couple to watch his teenage son Billy Ray Jr. while they vacation in Europe. Chelsea has a chip on her shoulder and harbors a long festering grudge against Papa Bear. Billy Ray Jr. feels abandoned and has a chip on his shoulder for being pawned off on two old coots. Rounding out the cast of characters is Charlie, the mailman, who has had a life-long crush on Chelsea and now has a chip on his shoulder because she’s engaged. Of course Mama Bear has to keep it all together and knock all those chips off so that everyone can live happily ever after. The script, as written, packs an emotional wallop with all the fixings for a deeply moving and heartwarming family drama.
Unfortunately, as directed by Gloria Gifford, all of the emotional potential has been sucked out of this production, leaving only the slightest hint of what might have been. Primarily a very successful actress, her bio credits her with directing over 65 stage productions. You would think she would have the “directing thing” down by now, but judging by her work here she should stick with acting. In the program she thanks her mentor of 19 years, “the beloved Milton Katselas.” The recently departed Mr. Katselas was a renowned acting teacher who stressed the inner life of the characters and the many subtle layers of subtext that go into making a true and believable portrayal. None of that is on display here. Instead we get one-dimensional characters who talk “at” each other and never really talk “to” each other, and who all seem like they are in different plays.
Veteran stage and screen stars Salome Jens and Andrew Prine play the aging couple. Ms. Jens, who stumbled more than a few times with her lines, lacks all the strength, determination and backbone Ethel should exhibit; instead, she comes off as weak and ineffectual; a doddering old biddy more in need of help than being able to offer it. Mr. Prine is the only reason to see the show, although his portrayal is less than multidimensional; at least he knows a punch line when he “sees” it, and he continually delivers his curmudgeonly zingers with impeccable timing. As Charlie, Bill Stevenson is a constant irritation; he makes no attempt to even approximate a New England accent and his “holy macanoli” cackles are exceedingly loud and incessantly annoying. Brenda Dietlein plays Chelsea like she’s the wife in a TV commercial who’s just discovered the recipe for that perfect ham glaze that’s sure to keep her perfect family happy. Think of every obnoxious sitcom kid you’ve ever seen and you can pretty much picture Adam Simon Krist’s interpretation of Billy Ray Jr; he runs the acting gamut from A-B. The role of Billy Ray is pretty much a thankless nothing role and Blake Boyd does not do anything to change that perception. All of these actors clearly have the ability to deliver well-crafted performances, but they are all floundering with a visionless director at the helm. Only Mr. Prine manages to keep his head above water.
The show is performed “in-the-round”—or more aptly for this theater “in-the-rectangle”—with a set by Nate Milisavljevich which captures the essence of a summer lake home perfectly. For some reason, however, the scenes changes—which mostly consist of moving a few props—take forever.
If watching a grouchy grandpa deliver gratuitous guffaws is enough to keep you happy then On Golden Pond is for you. If you demand more, then you will probably want to vacation elsewhere.
photos by Tim Dietlein
On Golden Pond
The Glendale Centre Theatre in Glendale (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on August 11, 2012
for tickets, call 818-244-8481 or visit http://www.glendalecentretheatre.com