Cast aside any preconceived notions you might have about “community theater” and head on over to Whittier Community Theatre to catch Ernest Thompson’s On Golden Pond (a play that hasn’t lost an iota of its humor or charm since winning the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding New Play of 1979) in a production that stands comparison to what you might see on one of our local professional stages.

IMG_7723e If ever there were a play that hardly needed synopsizing, it’s Thompson’s multigenerational comedy. Is there anyone of a certain age who hasn’t seen its 1981 film adaptation starring Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn as the long-married Thayers enjoying perhaps their last vacation On (Lake) Golden Pond, accompanied that summer by their daughter Chelsea’s thirteen-year-old stepson-to-be? It’s hard to imagine a seasoned Los Angeles theatergoer who doesn’t remember Ethel’s “Don’t be such an old poop” or Norman’s “‘Ethel Thayer.’ It thounds like I’m lithping, doethn’t it?,” or teenage Billy’s revelation to Norman that when he and his friends “cruise chicks,” it’s cause they want to “suck face”?

Yes, indeed, On Golden Pond is the kind of play that brings back a flood of movie memories to people who may never have seen it live on stage—all the more reason to catch WCT’s highly enjoyable revival.

IMG_7750e Diehard movie fans may carp that some of the film’s most famous scenes are missing. You won’t witness Norman’s immediate terror as he finds himself lost in the woods, or Chelsea’s finally managing the back flip she could never do as a child, or the slap Ethel gives Chelsea when she feels her daughter has disparaged her father once too often. Missing too, for obvious reasons, are the film’s many scenes On Golden Pond itself, including those wonderful bonding moments between Norman and his surrogate grandson, fishing poles in hand.

Even in its original one-set form, however, On Golden Pond is about as sure-fire a crowd-pleaser as you’re likely to see on stage, and play-to-movie buffs will relish seeing how then thirty-year-old playwright Thompson was able to tell the same story he did in his screenplay without ever leaving the Thayer’s summer living room, and how he explored themes of mortality, marriage, and intergenerational miscommunication with equal depth and finesse.

Under Roxie Lee’s expert direction, a marvelous “non-professional” cast (with résumés every bit as long as the so-called “pros”) deliver topnotch performances, the toppest-notched belonging to the production’s two stellar leads.

Norman Thayer may be turning eighty, but Eric Nelson doesn’t miss a beat in a performance every bit as memorable as his illustrious predecessors’, bringing real depth (and impeccable comedic timing) to the irascible but lovable “old poop.”

Community theater treasure Roxanne Barker matches her costar every step of the way, giving us a warm, wise, witty, and absolutely wonderful Ethel Thayer who has clearly adored her forty-eight years of “long-suffering” married life with this incorrigible curmudgeon.

IMG_7840e Elizabeth Lauritsen’s performance as Chelsea reveals decades of a daughter’s built-up hurt and resentment. As Chelsea’s fiancé Bill Ray, Dave Edwards makes us believe that Norman and Ethel’s daughter has finally found the all-around mensch she deserves. Ronan Walsh may be only a year older than 13-year-old Billy Ray, but with fifteen stage credits to his name he more than holds his own against his decades-older fellow players. Last but not least, Andy Kresowski’s folksy postman Charlie Martin delivers ample laughs along with the daily mail.

I’m delighted to report that each and every cast member is entirely audible without the over-amping I’ve noticed in recent Whittier Community Theatre productions. WCT is to be saluted too for not having watered down Thompson’s language. I do wish, however, that cast members had been given the program headshots they and WCT audiences deserve.

Scenic designer Mark Fredrickson’s nifty Thayer summer home recalls a Grandma Moses painting, properties designer Cherrie Lakey filling it with years of accumulated memorabilia. Karen Jacobson’s costumes (including some provided by cast members themselves) are character-appropriate choices each and every one. Suzanne Frederickson’s capable lighting design and John Francis’s equally skillful sound design add to the production’s close-to-professional quality, as does a particularly effective musical underscoring during scene changes effected by stage manager Nancy Tyler and running crew member Julie Breihan. On Golden Pond is produced by Monica Francis.

At ninety-two years of age, Whittier Community Theatre has been providing its audiences with quality family entertainment for nearly a century (and how many American theaters can claim this distinction?). On Golden Pond makes it amply clear why WCT, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps going… and going.

Whittier Community Theatre, The Center Theatre, 7630 S. Washington Ave., Whittier.

–Steven Stanley
November 17, 2013

Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.