On Golden Pond
By Ernest Thompson
Directed by Russell Scott Spencer

A review by Keith Waits.
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved. 

Michael Gaither, Jonathan Culwell, Gary Crockett, Heidi Platt, 
Louise Schroader Epperson & David Colvin in On Golden Pond.

On Golden Pond is perfect material for a community theatre: the story is sufficiently sentimental but not maudlin, and the characters and situation are essentially bland but easily relatable. The extremely popular film adaptation arguably elevated its reputation beyond the actual merit of the original text, although there are certainly worthwhile aspects contained therein.

Which is not to say that it cannot be entertaining, and this production, directed by Russell Scott Spencer, manages to deliver enough laughs and pathos to keep audiences satisfied. Yet the script takes the time to nicely establish some interesting character conflict, only to resolve everything in such a pat and too easy fashion that it undermines its own integrity. Drama is supposed to condense life into manageable slices of storytelling, but a difficult relationship between father and daughter that has lasted for decades being washed away after a few minutes of clichéd dialogue is too far-fetched to be believed.

Much more successful in its impact and the real heart of the story is the interaction between Norman Thayer, Jr., and his wife, Ethel, in which the playwright explores themes of love and mortality with a much subtler hand. There is poignancy in the barbed interplay between them that represents a lifetime of acceptance and compassion.

This production moves at too slow a pace, but the mostly unfussy performances work well enough to tell the story. Key among them, of course, is the work of the two leads. David Colvin is well cast as Norman, as crusty a curmudgeon as you will ever find, finding the character’s irascible quality and the resulting laughs in good balance with an understanding of the more serious underpinnings of the man. Louise Schroader Epperson is a solid if uninspired Ethel, his wife, and her portrayal benefits most from her utter lack of self-consciousness onstage. It is a quality that unfortunately does hamper two of her costars – Heidi Platt as their daughter Chelsea and Gary Crockett as her dentist boyfriend, Bill Ray – although I suppose it can be said that their work serves to make Mr. Colvin’s and Ms. Epperson’s performances seem all the more natural. Jonathan Culwell does fine as Billy Ray, the young son of Bill Ray who spends the summer with the Thayers; and Michael Gaither displays distinct professionalism and rascally charm as Charlie Martin, the local mailman and youthful friend/old flame of Chelsea.

Theatregoers who bring memories of the film into the theatre with them are possibly more charitable to the experience, and it also may speak more powerfully to audience members of Norman’s and Ethel’s age, who may find themselves occasionally preoccupied with these same themes in their own life. For them, and perhaps many others, On Golden Pond addresses these concerns with a tender and compassionate quality that is welcoming.

On Golden Pond

January 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 at 8:00pm
January 15 at 2:00pm
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Ave. Clarksville, IN 47129