Review by Liz Eichler of On Golden Pond: Human Race Theatre
On Golden Pond, produced by the Human Race Theatre Company, is simple and warm as the setting sun, keeping a smile on your face.
On Golden Pond, by Ernest Thompson, was written in 1979, and is still a relevant meditation on the realities of aging: the teen years, the middle years, and the twilight years. It is the story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, their life-long relationship with the lake, and Norman’s distant relationship with his daughter, who visits with her fiancé, his young son, and the chip on her shoulder she’s been nursing for years.
Is there someone like any of these characters in your family? Norman (Joneal Joplin) is the authoritarian father—not Daddy—who’s gruff manner has scared more than one suitor from the house, but underneath that is really a sweet man. Ethel (Dale Hodges) is the mom who has been torn by her allegiance to her husband and a child, both she dotes on, but neither ever seeing eye to eye. Chelsea (Jennifer Joplin, Joneal’s real life daughter) is the daughter who is a capable adult everywhere but in her childhood home, who has lived most of her life feeling she disappointed her father for not being a son. Charlie Martin (Charlie Clark) is the sweet but odd guy who still lives in the hometown, always reminding you of your youth. Bill Ray (Ken Early) is the daughter’s new man, awkwardly butting heads with his grown girlfriend’s father, as that father enjoys the game of “jerking him around.”
As expected, all the leading characters are masters at their art of acting. There are over 120 years of experience among them. However, the brightest spots in this warm and genuine show are the scenes with newcomer Kaleb Barlow, as Bill’s young son, Billy Ray. With great timing, presence and diction, Barlow is charming. This Stivers School for the Arts student has found the balance which makes him a believable dentist’s son from LA—smart, polite, curious, but with some street cred. You can see why his character lights up Norman, and they thoroughly enjoy their time together—as does the audience.
The setting is a spectacular lake house, designed by Mark Halpin of UC’s College Conservatory of Music. It has a “charming ambience” with solid beams, a fieldstone fireplace, ample plaid couch, rag rugs, window cranks, and fishing gear as décor. It will make you crave a vacation, and listen for the loons.
Director Richard Hess, also from UC’s CCM, uses the space well, and guides us along on this journey, “a love letter to love, to longevity in marriage.” The show runs through April 23. For tickets visit humanracetheatre.org or call 937-228-3630.