Family drama ruffles the surface On Golden Pond
You’d be forgiven for believing you’re relaxing at the lake at the start of “On Golden Pond,” Village Theatre Waterdown’s latest production.
Jane Coryell’s brilliant set welcomes you into a cosy cottage nestled in a forested lake in Maine. Pictures — a sneaking suspicion they’re family members of the cast and crew — a fish and fishing tackle adorn the walls. Books, board games and puzzles are stacked beside a fireplace, awaiting a rainy day.
It’s idyllic. But, in theatre, you know all is not as it seems and, as you settle into your seat, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When we meet the cantankerous Norman Thayer, delightfully portrayed by Al French, we get an inkling about what’s going on.
The plot is uncomplicated but that doesn’t mean we’re dealing with light topics here. Ethel (Deb Dagenais) and Norman have returned to Golden Pond. Their estranged daughter, Chelsea, her fiancé and his son arrive for Norman’s 80th birthday. From the moment she calls her father Norman, we know their past and turbulent relationship will be reopened. Ernest Thompson’s script also tackles the challenges an aging couple face through dementia, feelings of uselessness and death.
French deftly guides us through Norman’s complexities. The beauty of his performance lies in his expert delivery of lines with their two-pronged intention — he’s funny and sharp-witted, yet with each word, we know something more sinister lurks beneath.
Norman handles his frustration at not remembering his phone number by getting the operator to call him back and it’s comical. But, really, it’s not funny. His awkwardness during his reunion with Chelsea could have a strong bitter bent, but not with French in the lead. He moves us through these critical moments with our sympathy for him intact.
Dagenais as Ethel is excellent. One look conveys her worry at his failing memory or the love she still feels for him. She’s the glue holding Norman together,
as well as the cookie-baking grandmother everyone wants.
Joy Aubin, Marie Dickie and Amelia Steinbring keep us rugged with costumes straight from the L.L. Bean catalogue. “On Golden Pond” is timeless, its themes universal, so we (thankfully) don’t need to be placed in the late-1970s, when it was written. It would be disruptive to have bell bottoms, sideburns and polyester all over the place.
That’s why it’s jarring when Chelsea shows up wearing pumps and brown and gold patterned, wide-bottomed pants reminiscent of that era. We expect her to head to the disco. But she’s a Golden Pond regular. She knows it’s rural so why’s she dressed like this?
Daniel Oros, a Waterdown newcomer and whose theatre credits include high school productions, does a convincing job as Billy Ray. The instant we meet the foul-mouthed teen, we know he and Norman will get along like a house on fire. Norman shows the boy how to fish, Billy shows the octogenarian life is worth living.
Kevin Griffiths, as Charlie the postman, provides the right amount of comedic relief during mail deliveries. His laugh is infectious and helps lift the mood when we’ve picked a tad too much at past scabs.
Sara Burdulis does a good job as Chelsea and Brad Forbes, as her fiancé Bill Ray, mixes just the right amount of meek with valour when he stands up to Norman.
If the recent weather has you retreating to the confines of your house, venture out to the little cottage in Waterdown where you can hunker down for an enjoyable production showcasing a family that overcomes past hurts for a future full of promise.
Deb Dagenais, Daniel Oros and Al French as Ethel, Billy and Norman in “On Golden Pond.” The mouthy teen and the cranky Norman find common ground.
Deb Degenais and Al French as Ethel and Norman Thayer aptly tackle the challenges their aging characters face.